Der Bau.

Franz Kafka in Thailand — does that sound irrelevant, or is it very timely?

Last year, Goethe Institut’s literary festival that centred around the works of Kafka was held to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the writer’s death. Much to the surprise of the institute’s director, Dr Marla Stukenberg, the “Kafka Festival” was met with packed audiences and enthusiastic feedback. In fact, sales of the Thai translations of Kafka’s works after the festival soared significantly, according to the institute’s librarians.

“Personally, I was afraid that Franz Kafka would not really draw crowds into our auditorium and I was really amazed to see it was really packed on the opening day,” Stukenberg said.

Amid the audience in last year’s festival was Jitti Chompee, a director and choreographer well-known in dance circles. Inspired by what he saw, Jitti suggested another festival to reflect on Kafka’s writing, but this time, through the language of dance, choreography, performing arts and visual arts. From Nov 13 to early December, the “Unfolding Kafka Festival” will feature various performances and shows based on interpretations of Kafka’s works. The festival, jointly hosted by Goethe-Institut Thailand, World Performances @ Drama Chula, the Japan Foundation and 18 Monkeys Dance Theatre, will build on last year’s literary event but will offer a completely different platform of sights and sounds this time. Performances and art installations will be the main events, and there will be workshops to encourage interaction and discussion.

“What’s really important for us is that we don’t only present without any interactivity,” said Stukenberg. “Artists [that are featured] come so far to get here. It’s not very fulfilling for them to just present either, so we try to get some interaction going with the audience.”

As one of the most influential German-language writers ever, Kafka’s works continue to be of relevance in today’s modern world. It can fit specially in the context of Thailand too, according to the director.

The Silence Of Insects.

In Unfolding Kafka, artists — Jitti from Thailand, as well as others from abroad — look at the writer’s text and build their works around it. From Metamorphosisto Der Bau (The Burrow) — and to Kafka’s theme of existential futility, bureaucratic suffocation and anxiety — the festival offers various contextual interpretation of stories that continue to resonate a century later. Among the shows include an insect-themed origami installation and dance performances that focus on the relationship between the body and the space around it.

Stukenberg does confess that reading Kafka may not be easy because it requires a certain age to be fully appreciated, but added: “Kafka is one of the writers I come to again and again. Sometimes what I like is that many things are not complete. Many are unfinished and you can have your own thoughts, because things remain open to a certain extent. Openness is one of the reasons why I think he is so relevant today — if everything was fixed and explained in the background of his time, then maybe one would approach him more with a historical interest. But since so many things remain open, he is open for interpretation in the context of our issues today.” That’s not to say that people who have not read his works will be unable to enjoy the festival. The broody dances and intricate origami artworks are interestingly provoking, such as Isabelle Schad’s interpretation of Der Bau.

“In this novella, Kafka deals with people who are frightened of overwhelming bureaucracy. If you look at her work, there is this person who is totally wrapped in material. You may be able to relate a bit better, but even without knowing Kafka, the work is intriguing in its own right,” said Stukenberg.

For novices that have yet to start reading these classics, the director says it is not necessary to complete the whole book before coming to the festival.

“I think it’s a good idea to just go buy one of the books, have a look, browse and read a few pages. Then maybe come to the festival and see some of the events, then go back to his novels. It might help to open a new access to reading his works in a different way. Just read a few pages, then take it from there.”


Festival Programe

The Silence Of Insects by Yoko Seyama

Nov 12-16, The Rose Hotel Bangkok, 400 baht/250 baht (for students)

- Flat sheets of paper are transformed into Kafka’s creatures, becoming a huge installation, through folding and sculpting techniques, and to pay much attention to “space” where Kafka’s protagonist’s body is able to move. The interpretation of Metamorphosis will pose the question of how choreography, physical movement, origami installation and visual art interact and which processes facilitate a translation from one to the other.

Der Bau by Isabelle Schad and Laurent Goldring

Nov 19 (7.30pm), Sodsai Pantoomkomol Center for Dramatic Arts, Chulalongkorn University, 600 baht/400 baht (for professional artists or those below the age of 27)/300 baht (for students)

- Kafka’s novella Der Bau (The Burrow) describes the burrow as a space deriving from the body itself, yet still belonging to it, and the story is a basis for exploring the relationship between body and space. Der Bau is a continuation of a work by Isabelle Schad that began in 2008. In this series of pieces, the artist imagines the costume of the performers as a transitional object: at once a prosthesis of the missing last layer of the body, and simultaneously the first encompassing external space.

An Un-Folding Process by Isabelle Schad

Nov 21 (7pm), MUPA Burapha University Chon Buri

- In An Unfolding Process (2014), Isabelle Schad shares and shows different excerpts of the pieces till Der Bau, trying to reveal some of the process around the series of pieces created together with Laurent Goldring. Here, the dances are punctuated with lectures. Schad shows her notes of work and her thoughts and includes the spectator in this matrix. The beauty lies in the crossover between Franz Kafka and the American avant-garde of dance.

Cesser D’être (Stop Being) by Laurent Goldring, Marika Rizzi and Jitti Chompee

Dec 2-3 (7pm), KBank Siam-Pic Ganesha centre of performing art, 400 baht/250 baht (for students)

- Space and body again compose a tangled relationship in this work that combines dance, movement and sculptures. A frame is filled with a transparent sculpture made of long white strings that allow two bodies to rest inside. The sculpture stands in balance on a support, without touching the floor, except when the movements of the two performers make it lose its balance and hit the ground. The micro-movements of the performers will be deeply related to the macro-movements of the sculpture.

Workshop Embryology and Eastern Practices by Isabelle Schad

Nov 16 (10am-11.55am), KBank Siam-Pic Ganesha Center of performing art

- This workshop will be led as a warm-up practice session. It links to knowledge around our embryological development with very archaic principles of movement and energy taught in eastern practices (aikido, qi-gong, shiatsu). Relationships between how we become who we are will be explored, through an adventure into movement, group organisations and small choreographic sketches.


The Silence of the Insects


Der Bau.


Cesser D’etre.