In the summer of 2015, Manhattan was once again gifted with “The Khon” at Carnegie Hall. Presented by the Permanent Mission of Thailand to the United Nations, The Khon is a Thai classical masked drama based on the narrative of the Ramakien, the Thai national epic derived from the Hindu epic Ramayana.
The Khon is performed by The Royal Dance Troupe from the Ministry of Culture of Thailand’s Fine Arts Department. Traditionally, Khon would be performed primarily in the royal court. Modern Khon notably includes female performers for female characters once traditional performed by men.
The Khon consists of four characters types. These include men, women, monkeys, and demons. Each has their own unique dancing style, and each character type has a distinct personality which comes alive in the eternal struggle between good and evil. It takes three hours for the performer playing Thotsakan, the Demon King, to put his costume on. The costume design is truly a work of splendor and a visual masterpiece.
The dance performers of The Khon mime the action while the music and singing is performed by the chorus and orchestra. The orchestra consists of traditional Thai instruments like the ranat ek, a percussion instrument that is shaped like a Thai boat.
Many members of the Thai community were in attendance including the Royal Thai Consul General, Pornpong Kannittanon, as well as His Excellency Mr. Virachai Plasai, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of Thailand to the United Nations. After speaking with many of the younger Thais in attendance, we found that this was the first time seeing a khon for many of them. The Khon is a national treasure of Thailand, and quite a gift and an exceptional treat for the United States.
(Photo credits: Justine Chen, Worarat Piriyanasorn, and Jinglebel Shaiyakich)