After two years of preparation, The King and I by Rodgers and Hammerstein arrives in Anchorage! Set in the 1860s, The King and I follows the story of Anna Leonowens, a British schoolteacher who travels to Bangkok to teach the children of the King of Siam. This wonderfully dynamic production featured a retinue of local Alaskan performers and dancers, including choreographer and dancer Suparat Prasannet. I had the chance to talk to Suparat about his involvement in the production. Suparat has been dancing traditionally Thai with the Buddhist center Wat Dhamma Bhavana since she was 3 years old. She says that every Sunday, her parents would take her to the Thai temple so she could learn more about her culture through movement and reconnect with her roots through language.
“I got involved in the theater program at West High, eventually heading to Dance West. After high school, I joined a local dance company which allowed me to explore urban dance and get a taste of a real career in the world of the arts!” She reports that during the COVID-19 pandemic, she took a break from the arts to refocus and discover her identity in addition to being an artist.
“The King and I was the first project to get me out of my hiatus!”
Suparat became involved with The King and I through Becky Kendall, Director of Community Engagement for the Anchorage Concert Association (ACA).
“Becky showed up at the temple on a random day in 2019! I recognized her as one of Dance West’s guest teachers, so seeing her at the temple was a complete shock! She was looking for local talent to perform the play in a piece for The King and I. Once we saw each other and she knew my background, she immediately asked me to join and choreograph the section using a more traditional Thai approach! The rest is history!”
Suparat says the most rewarding part and the hardest part of being 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. Saying that, just like ballet, traditional Thai dance cannot be learned in a month, but the local cast has succeeded.
“Fawn Lahm (Traditional Thai Dance) consists of many complex hand and finger movements, specific foot patterns, balances and all in cultural dress. To put it in a ballet simile, I basically tried to train new dancers. be on point in a month! It was very difficult but they did a damn fantastic job! I’m so grateful to everyone who showed up to rehearsals and did their best to learn a multitude of art forms that were foreign to them. I think the “slow motion/this-is-what-happens-moment” is when I watched them on stage the 4th or 5th time. You can just say, the movements were rooted in them and everyone was able to be in the moment and have fun.”
She reports that the show’s Aunties deserve an honorable mention.
“They cooked home-cooked meals for the ENTIRE cast at EVERY rehearsal and band performance – enjoying that together was so rewarding.”
Asking Suparat what she hopes others take away from this story, she says the following:
“Empathy and respect. Growing up as a first generation, Asian American presented a lot of moral and identity conflicts for me. Connecting cultural values and shaping an individual category outside of stereotypes – is a theme I unfortunately know a lot of my peers and cohorts I think ultimately it made us much more accepting of other people’s lifestyles, even if it’s not for us Respecting and learning each other’s history is a truly powerful bonding experience that will hopefully foster a future of harmony and peace.