Everybody was certainly nervous on the morning of March 26, or, maybe,
anxious would be a better word to use! We had all heard that Chiang Mai was
a “killing stage”, and that, very quickly, artists performing at the venue
would be able to feel the reaction and sentiments of the spectators… good or
Gerald van der Straten Ponthoz with Jakrapob Penkair, Minister of the Prime
We were also anxious to know if a Chiang Mai audience would even be
interested in hill tribe magic! Would they like the show? Would they love
the hill tribe magicians? Would they appreciate the countless hours spent in
creating a new kind of magic show?
Three days before, the same troupe of young magicians had performed in
Chiang Rai for over 100 VIPs who came from as far as Belgium, Malaysia and
Amongst them were members of the Thai and International corporate world,
diplomats, nobles and representatives of the Palace in Bangkok. The gala
dinner at Insii Thai House had been a big success and everybody had
congratulated the students. But… Chiang Mai would be different. Much bigger,
much grander, much more impressive, much riskier… Besides over 400 VIPs, the
local consuls, the managers both of high quality hotels and of large
companies, the event was going to be presided over by Jakrapob Penkair,
Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office. Nothing could go wrong in order to
not disappoint these important guests. But it wasn’t only about VIPs… What
would the reaction of the 3,600 other guests be?
song from a beautifully costumed young Hill Tribe girl.
Only one show. Only one chance to succeed or fail to capture the hearts of
the Chiang Mai people. Probably more important in the eyes of the young
artists was the reaction of the huge number of hill tribe peoples who were
coming to Chiang Mai to watch “their” magicians. The reaction of thousands
of spectators who would judge their abilities… “Anxious” was certainly the
word to describe the atmosphere that morning!
The guests started to arrive at the Chiang Mai University Convention Hall
around 6 pm. VIPs were offered a cocktail party in the Sala room, whilst the
rest of the audience started to queue near the gates. Very quickly, the
grounds of the Convention Hall were full of people and the doors had to be
opened earlier than foreseen.
On their way to their seats, guests could view an art exhibition organized
by the students of the Suksasongkroh Maechan School with their as yet unseen
products; ceramics, hill tribe batiks, woodwork and furniture. Other
students of the Hill Tribe Violin Band were greeting the spectators in the
enormous hall with Thai melodies and songs of the hills. The Hill Tribe Rock
Band followed with popular Akha and Hmong pop songs. At 7 pm the Convention
Hall was packed, with not only all seats occupied, but also crowds of people
sitting on the stairs! The Chiang Mai people had responded and come in
force… Anxiety transformed itself into jubilation!
At 7.15 Count Gerald van der Straten Ponthoz, students of the Suksasongkroh
Maechan School, Rotary members and representatives of the government’s
Public Relations Office awaiting the arrival of Jakrapob Penkair, Minister
of the Prime Minister’s Office, who was coming from Bangkok. The minister
was greeted and welcomed in the Sala room where he received a gift from the
students who had prepared the exhibition. He then took his seat in the VVIP
area with Count Gerald van der Straten Ponthoz, the Governor of Chiang Mai
Wiboon Sa-nguanphong, the Executive Director of the government’s Public
Relations Office Somjai Sasomsarp and several diplomats, including the
Consuls of India and Greece.
The stage looked grandiose, with its giant colorfully painted playing cards
as décor, as well as with the 40 hill tribe performers, dancers and
musicians who accompanied the magicians throughout the show. Traditional
music and modern pop songs were blended with magic. Hill tribe costumes
added even more charm to this yet unseen way of performing magic on stage
for more than one and a half hour.
The approach of the young magicians in creating their show was resolutely
different from whatever had been done before. Small theater plays or poems
accompanied the magic tricks, smooth rhythms or loud drum performances built
the atmosphere, and humor made spectators laugh. Audience reaction was loud,
and very, very positive!
Whilst the aim of the young magicians was to surprise the audience and make
both kids and adults enjoy their show, they also wanted to remember someone
who was of great importance to the country and sadly left us recently. The
show stopped briefly to remember HRH Princess Galyani Vadhana whilst the
Chiang Rai Youth Orchestra played in her honor.
young hill tribe magician “doing his stuff” with the Minister, Jakrapob
After such a successful performance, the students can be very proud of their
achievements, but one must not forget that such a production required many
more talents. The students’ teacher, Sylvain Sluys, (Sylvain the Magician),
from Belgium, had to work hard to transfer his magic knowledge in such a
short time. The musicians had to work hard to adapt their tones to magic.
Dancers were part of the show all along and the violinists were constantly
in the background. Not forgetting the backstage team who prepared the stage
and the lighting, and the government’s Public Relations Office who made it
possible to reach the audience in the remotest mountains to allow the new
Hill Tribe Magic Troupe to gain instant fame amongst their own people. All
of them succeeded in transforming the show into a “Hollywood style
production” which will not be easily forgotten.
It should also be remembered that the Hill Tribe Magic Show is part of a
broader project by Count Gerald van der Straten Ponthoz and the Rotary Club
of Maechan, conceived to give the youngsters a chance to reach for a
brighter future with their new and very special knowledge. Everyone involved
hopes that these skills will allow the students, who all come from
disadvantaged families, to make extra revenues. To this aim, it is now the
task of the corporate world to help these young magicians, who have their
own identity and their own show. They make a different magic, they have a
different charm. To become world class magicians the students will need to
perform even more, and have already been offered shows in two hotels and in
Penang. Hopefully, this is only the beginning. The real magic will occur
when these students will be able to use their skills to come out of poverty
and, (why not!), become internationally applauded magicians.
Audience participation in a Hill Tribe Magic
Is this Hill Tribe Magic hypnotism?
Belgian magician Sylvain Sluys, who came to
Thailand to teach magic to a group of 10 Hill Tribe students, with his
assistants during the performance.
All smiles from the Hill Tribe violin band.
Sylvian the Magician, with his troupe.
The huge audience at the CMU Convention Centre,
all enjoying the show.
The show’s over - it’s an amazing success -