Li-ke Song Khrueang is a type of folk dance drama of the central region which originated around 1907, in the reign of King Rama V, when Phraya Phetchara-prani staged the first Li-ke Song Khrueang performance at a theatre (called “Wik”) near Pom Phrakan on the bank of Klong Ong Ang, opposite Ratchanaddaram temple.
The performers of Li-ke Song Khrueang have to sing, dance, act and deliver the dialogue themselves. The performance is accompanied by the Pi Phat ensemble. The performers wear a flashy imitation of princely costume and insignia. The hero character wears a Panchuret Yot - a tall, pointed headdress, a shirt of gold and silk brocade, with Yok cloth wrapped over the trousers, two strings of Sangwan (jeweled sashes that crisscross the chest), epaulets, a cloth sash over the shoulder,bows of ribbons on both shoulders, and white socks. The heroine character wears a Thai-style crown headdress, embroidered short-sleeved blouse, jeweled sashes, a piece of breast cloth, bows of ribbons on both shoulders, white socks and a brocaded skirt which is pleated at the front.
The principal dances in the show comprise Ram Ok Tua, the movement expressing the character’s travel or journey to the accompaniment of Phleng Choet and Phleng Samoe tunes; Ram Na Tiang, a performance of dancing and singing in the classical Thai style, which depicts or narrates the story or introduces to the audience the character that the performer is portraying; Ram Khau Phra Khau Nang or courtship dance - a duet dance by the hero and the heroine characters, which requires great dancing skill as the performers have to sing and dance together in collaborative partnership; and Ram Krabuan Mai Rop or war dance, which requires great skill in the handling of weapons such as swords, kris, lances, truncheons. The performers have to be trained in the use and handling of the weapons required by their role. This type of dance is truly one of the gems in the Li-ke Song Khrueang.
In addition to the dancing skill, the performers must also have a good singing voice and diction. They must be well-versed in the story to be depicted and able to remain true to the role and the characters that they are portraying. In short, the Li-ke performers must be versatile and possess well-rounded skills in order to deliver a punchy, effective performance that mesmerizes the audience who will become their fans. Popular Li-ke performers are called Kwanchai Maeyok (the heartthrobs of the lady fans).
Later developments in the Li-ke form can be traced back to the Li-ke Song Khrueang, whose dance patterns, classical Thai-style singing, and presentation style serve as the framework and model. The most striking example is the Rani-kloeng song that was created by Master Dokdin Suea-sa-nga. It has become identified with Li-ke.
Today the rule of Li-ke Song Khrueang performance is fading with the time because the practices in dance pattern, singing and improvising the verses in the old ways are no longer popular. For survival, Li-ke troupes have to adapt their presentation style to the changing taste of the audience -- for example, they adopt even more glitzy, flashy costume today because the spectators prefer it to the hard-to-find, old-style costume. The dwindling number of artists today who can perform Li-ke Song Khrueang means that the genre is becoming a rarity.