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Classical Dance

‘Khon’, the famous masked dance-drama, is performed by dancers wearing brilliantly crafted masks. During the Ayutthaya period, ‘khon’ performances were held in palace halls or courtyards lighted by torches. Normally, ‘khon’ performances are taken from different episodes in the Ramakien, the Thai version of the Indian epic, the Ramayana. The formal movements of ‘khon’ performances make the acting and dancing inseparable. More than ten styles of mask identify the characters of the dancers as kings, demons or monkeys. Lord Ram wears green, for example, Lord Lak wears gold and the monkey, Hanuman, wears white.

‘Lakhon’, a graceful and beautiful dance-drama, is less formal than ‘khon’. Lakhon dancers do not wear masks, but instead don ‘chada’, the jeweled crown head-dress. ‘Lakhon’ and ‘khon’ costumes are the same and the plots are drawn chiefly from the Ramakien and other folk stories. ‘Lakhon’ has many forms:


‘Lakhon chatri’ is the oldest form of dance-drama originating in southern Thailand. It is often performed at popular shrines such as Bangkok’s Lak Muang (City Pillar).

- ‘Lakhon nai’ was originally performed by ladies of the inner royal court.
- ‘Lakhon nok’ is a humorous play, performed only by men.
‘Lakhon rong’ is a form of operetta with narratives sung by a chorus and a dialog sung and spoken by the actor-singers,
- ‘Lakhon phut’, is a spoken drama of poetry or prose.

‘Likay’ is a folk dance-drama that was developed from the ‘dee-gare song’, the religious chanting of the Chao Sen sect in southern Siam during the Ayutthaya period. This performance is still popular because of the beautiful costumes, humor and uncomplicated folk stories. Most plots feature the themes of good and evil, as well as fairy-tales. Good actors often get tips from the audience.

‘Nang’ is one kind of Thai performance in which puppets made of leather are projected onto a screen by dancers, who themselves perform ‘khon’ dance movements, while manipulating the puppets. Regional variations of ‘nang’ include ‘nang yai’, a shadow-play usually performed in the west-central region, and ‘nang talung’, using smaller puppets than ‘nang yai’, often performed in southern Thailand.

‘Hun’ is a Thai puppet play, differing in many respects from the Western Punch and Judy style shows. The ‘hun lakhon lek’ is a small puppet having legs and arms that are manipulated by two or three players. The stories are usually the same as ‘lakhon nok’. ‘Hun krabok’ are bamboo rod puppets with arms only, manipulated by pieces of bamboo. ‘Hun’ originated from Hainanese puppets, which have gradually become absorbed into the traditional Thai culture.

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