Birju Maharaj’s ‘Ritu Samhara’, is one of the highlights of the upcoming International Festival of Dance and Music in Bangkok.

Bangkok's International Festival of Dance and Music (September 11- October 24) celebrates its 12th year (known as the first ‘cycle,' in the Thai calendar), with yet another extravagant amalgam of old and new forms.

Thailand's annual cultural festival has begun to attract tourists from around the region, in the same manner as the yearly Arts Festivals of Singapore and Hong Kong.

The mega show's first half, as usual, focuses on outstanding Russian fare. The Novosibirsk State Theatre opens this year's event, with a grand operatic production of ‘Prince Igor.'

The festival was responsible for introducing opera in the cultural calendar of the country, and ‘Prince Igor', a war-drama created by famed Russian composer Alexander Borodin, is being performed in Bangkok for the first time. The Novosibirsk State Theatre, noted for its mega productions, will have as many as 290 artistes in this show!

The second opera is Puccini's much-loved ‘La Boheme,' which has been performed earlier at this event and it has always been a sell-out.

The Novosibirsk State Symphony Music and Opera Choir will play two great pieces, Prokofiev' s ‘Symphony No 1' and Beethoven's ‘Symphony No 9.'

The ballets

Meanwhile, the Novosibirsk Ballet Theatre, with many National Golden Mask award-winning artists, has some unique productions lined up. It will stage the ever-popular ‘Cinderella,' laced with some lively, modern twists, followed by three one-act ballets from three diverse composers -Tchaikovsky, George Gershwin and Philip Glass.

Last but not the least, will be the ballet ‘La Bayadere' that is set in India and revolves round the love story of a temple dancer, and is noted for the spectacular ‘Kingdom of the Shades' scene.

Two more grand ballet productions are also on the agenda. One, the ever-popular ‘Swan Lake,' which will be performed by the outstanding Zurich Ballet troupe - led by Heinz Spoerli, whose every trip to the festival seems to win more audiences. The second, will be an innovative version of Charles Dickens' novel, ‘The Christmas Carol,' by the vibrant Northern Ballet Theatre of the U.K. They will be performing in Thailand for the first time.

Argentina's Tango and Spain's Flamenco have become big draws at this event. This year, the much-talked about Spanish dancers of the award-winning Neuvo Ballet group will spin out a dazzling range of Bulerias, Tangos, Zapateado, Jaleos and Martinets.

As for Argentina's Estampas Portenas, the sizzling tango-group of 18 dancers is expected to set the stage on fire.

The second half of the festival, in October, focuses on contemporary performances. This year, there will be new, exciting groups from Cuba, Brazil, Sweden, Canada and the Netherlands.

A night of exotic Salsa from Cuba, a true fiesta of Mambo, Rumba, Cha Cha Cha, performed by a pulsating group of dancers, and a sizzling nine-piece live band are on the cards.

The Cisne Negro Dance Co., one of the best-known contemporary dance groups of Brazil, noted for their athletic energy and artistic grace, will also perform in Bangkok for the first time.

The Netherlands's Dance Theatre I, which has a cult-status in Europe but has rarely performed in Asia, will be one of the highlights of this mega cultural show.

Two diverse jazz groups from Sweden and Canada will make their maiden appearance at the festival. They are the Swedish Jazz Kings (Sweden), noted for resurrecting the Chicago-style jazz of the 1920s and '30s, and the Shuffle Demons of Canada, noted for their jazz-funk rhythms.

There will also be a riveting rendering of ‘Carmino Burana' by the famed Daejeon Philharmonic Choir of Korea, made up of the country's best singers, musicians and dancers.

The festival has, over the past few years, seen some great dance productions from India too. This year, it will be Birju Maharaj's ‘Ritu Samhara,' which expresses six different seasons through six dance forms: Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Mohiniyattom, Manipuri, Kuchipudi and Odissi.

Dancer Saswati Sen, who performed in the first version of ‘Ritu Samhara,' 12 years ago, at the opening of the Festival of India in Russia, says that the new production has been conceived especially for the Bangkok festival.

Zubin Mehta, who performed two years ago at this very event, enjoyed it so much that he is coming again to Bangkok. The maestro and the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra will bring the festival to an impressive end with their music. They will resurrect two outstanding compositions- Stravinsky's ‘Rite of Spring' and Mahler's ‘Symphony No 1.'