Picture this: five people brightly dressed in gold and flashy colors with enormous amounts of jewelry on, running around, each with a bedazzled iPhone 6 in hand, franticaly trying to take a selfie with a passed-out guy.
This was what watching the Thai dance team was like.
Last Friday, April 8, Guilford College hosted the Christian Communications Institute, a Thai dance and drama team from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
The group specializes in dance from the North, South, Northeast and Central regions of Thailand, along with a custom drama genre called likay.
“Likay is best described as the gaudier, the brighter, the sparklier, the better,” said Andy Collins, audio and video consultant for the team during the show.
First-year Christopher Collins, coordinator of the event, said, “I invited (CCI) to come to Guilford thinking it would be a cool multicultural opportunity for the school. “I hope that people will come to realize that the world is so much bigger than just Guilford College.”
The show drew a large audience with people packed into the Joseph M. Bryan Jr Auditorium eager to witness the performance.
“This is a good opportunity for the Guilford community to learn more about Thai culture and traditions,” said first-year Veronica O’Neill prior to the show. “I am excited for the impact it will have, especially in correlation with the International Festival.”
The majority of students were not sure what to expect from the group.
“That style of performance has kind of died in recent decades, just because (of) modernization, so this university group revived it as an evangelical thing,” said Christopher Collins. “Their goal is to use Thai drama to communicate biblical and social messages to students.”
The group taught the history of Thailand through various dances. Then, during the likay part of the show, the group began to touch on social problems of poverty and class division.
“One of our main goals is to share the beauty of Thai culture and art with people who are in the U.S.,” said Andy Collins. “And at the same time, we feel that the message is great.”
Through comedy, exaggerated melodrama and stagecraft, the group brought the feel of Thailand into the auditorium.
“I walked in and the atmosphere reminded me so much of the country, my home for so long,” said Dorthy Mainhood, former missionary worker who lived in Thailand for 50 years. “Spending time in Thailand was so meaningful, and the event really brought the culture to life again for me.”
Mainhood did work in Thailand through Overseas Missionary Fellowship and vouched for the legitimacy of the vibrant energy CCI gave off. After the show, many were just as awestruck by the performance as Mainhood.
“I really enjoyed the costumes,” said sophomore Isabel Gutierrez, an audience member. “Also, (I liked) to see the division of socioeconomic class, and the fact that it is not just an American problem was eye-opening.”
Through an interactive storyline, the group educated attendees about a wide range of social problems and really demonstrated how issues, like inequality of wealth, are global issues.
“The event definitely increased (Guilford’s) knowledge of Thai culture and language,” said Guilford College President Jane Fernandes. “It was interesting to watch and shocking at times.”
The culture shock of the event was evident by the gasps and cheers of the audience as they grew more familiar with the crew and began engaging in the show. By the end of the event, the audience was comfortable, jumping out of their seats to get pictures and eager to continue asking questions.
“I think it brings a different perspective of the culture to the campus,” said first-year Shea Orth-Moore, audience member. “And we also get to bring a new one to them.”
“They are good sports and laugh a lot,” said Ellen Collins, the other audio technician and Andy Collins’ wife. “One of the things we are hoping is that they get to see outside of what their stereotypes of the US are. We want them to see things that would not be in a Hollywood movie.”
The stop at Guilford was just one of 31 locations in the U.S. that the group will be performing, and they hope to gain just as much from their audiences as their audiences do from them.