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Review: THE KING AND I at Alaska Center For The Performing Arts

Review: THE KING AND I at Alaska Center For The Performing Arts

Two years in the making, Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I makes its way to Anchorage! Set in the 1860's, The King and I follows the story of Anna Leonowens, a British school teacher who travels to Bangkok to teach the children of the King of Siam. This wonderfully vibrant production featured a suite of local Alaskan artists and dancers including choreographer and dancer Suparat Prasannet. I had the chance to speak to Suparat about her involvement with the production. Suparat has been Traditionally Thai dancing with Wat Dhamma Bhavana Buddhist Center since she was 3 years old. She states that every Sunday, her parents would take her to the Thai Temple in order for her to learn more about her culture through movement and reconnect with her roots through language.

"I became invested in the Theatre program at West High, eventually branching into Dance West. After high school I joined a local dance company that allowed me to explore urban dance and get a taste of a real career in the arts world!" She reports that during the COVID-19 pandemic, she took a break from the arts to center herself and discover her identity aside from being an artist.

"The King and I was the first project to bring me out of my hiatus!"

Suparat got involved with The King and I through Becky Kendall, the Community Engagement Director with the Anchorage Concert Association (ACA).

"Becky showed up at the temple one random day in 2019! I recognized her as one of the guest teachers with Dance West, so to see her at the Temple was a complete shock! She was on the hunt to scout local talent to perform the play-within-a-play for The King and I. Once we saw each other, and her knowing my background, she immediately asked me to join and choreograph the section to a more traditional Thai approach! To which, at that point, I happily agreed! The rest is history!"

Suparat states that the most rewarding part and the most challenging part of being a part of the production of The King and I went hand in hand: Working with a group of dancers who had never done traditional Thai dance or been on stage. Stating that much like ballet, Traditional Thai Dance cannot be learned in a month, but the local cast pulled it off.

"Fawn Lahm (Traditional Thai Dance) is a lot of intricate hand and finger movements, specific feet patterns, balances, and doing it all in a cultural dress. To put it into a ballet comparison, I essentially tried to make brand new dancers trained to be on pointe in one month! It was very difficult but they did a pretty darn fantastic job! I am so grateful to every individual that showed up to rehearsals and tried their very best to learn a multitude of art forms that were foreign to them. I think the "slow motion/this-is-happening-moment" is when I watched them on stage the 4th or 5th time. You could just tell, the moves were ingrained in them and everyone was able to be in the moment and have fun."

She reports that the aunties of the show deserve an honorable mention.

"They made home cooked meals for the ENTIRE cast EVERY group rehearsal and performance - enjoying that together was very rewarding."

In asking Suparat what she hopes others get out of this story, she says the following:

"Empathy and respect. Growing up a first generation, Asian American has presented a lot of moral and identity clashes for me. Bridging cultural values and shaping an individual category outside of stereotypes - is a theme I know a lot of my peers and cohorts unfortunately shoulder. I think ultimately, it's made us a lot more accepting of other's lifestyles even if it's not for us. Respecting and learning each other's history is a really powerful bonding experience that will hopefully foster a future of harmony and peace."

Review: THE KING AND I at Alaska Center For The Performing Arts

Suparat Prasannet is a local dancer and choreographer in Anchorage, Alaska.

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