Review: Unwrapping Culture (until October 17) at the Dance Centre

For a fuller description of the artists and the artistic decisions that made this work, see the Dance Centre description of Unwrapping Culture.

Art always has the capacity to surprise. I had an experience I’ve never had when viewing countless theatre and dance shows. I had the fight to urge to jump up and start tidying up the floor, which was littered with plastic toys, tchotchkes, and confetti. Never having been accused of excessive orderliness, I was shocked by the visceral quality of this urge. Unwrapping Culture is a work about the intersection of Western consumerism with Thai culture, and if the intention was to make the viewer feel strongly, it succeeded admirably.

Although this is obviously advertised as a dance work, many other elements are incorporated as well: music, film, audience participation, narration, theatre. Although I always appreciate multi-dimensional works, I almost felt the dance part could have been emphasized a bit more.

In general, there’s a chaotic, disoriented feeling, which may be a fair representation of urban Thailand overrun by tourists. I have yet to make it to Thailand, but I have heard the dismay of recent visitors, especially in comparison to long ago visits. This piece barely touched on sexual exploitation which may be the most dismaying aspect of all.

The two dancers, Alvin Erasga Tolentino and Pichet Klunchun, work together smoothly. The play also includes some religious (Buddhist) aspects, which I found unsettling, as I pondered whether religious ardor is displayed for commercial purposes.

Unwrapping Culture is unsettling (and pay close attention to one of the films partway through). The artistry is undeniable, and there are some beautiful aspects, but this work cannot be summed up as beautiful. It’s a courageous exploration of ugliness, or perhaps more accurately, an exploration of beauty and ugliness mixed up together. 

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