Theatre, Dance And Cinema Entertainment In Burma
Burma has a grand tradition of spectacular forms of entertainment, and if you find yourself with an evening to spare while you travel in Burma, there are several options ranging from traditional performance styles that date back over the centuries, to more modern modes of entertainment like cinema all with a unique Burmese flair. Here are some of the best to see.
One of the more difficult forms of entertainment to plan to see when you travel in Burma, as it tends to be performed by troupes that move around the country, the term zat pwe, in Burmese, covers a range of folk performance styles, including dancing, singing, satirical skits and melodramas. Typically, a zat pwe performance will consist of a combination of all of these, and will go on all night. Zat pwe is associated with pagoda festivals; every pagoda has its own festival date in the lunar calendar, during which funds are raised and performances staged by travelling zat pwe troupes – so if you happen to be passing through a town or village where such a festival is being held you may be in luck. A highlight of the zat pwe programme is the two-hour duet dance, which involves impressive acrobatics and improvisational elements.
Another important performance art tradition that can be seen as you travel in Burma, and one that is very different to the raw, bawdy atmosphere of the zat pwe, is the Yama Zatdaw the courtly dance drama based on the Burmese version of the great Indian epic, the Ramayana. Dancers wear embroidered costumes and elaborate headdresses, and perform highly stylised dances while a narrator sings the story, which tells of gods, love, and battles with demons.
A form of entertainment popular for many centuries is puppet theatre, a tradition which developed due to medieval social strictures that meant male and female dancers could not appear together on stage but male and female characters portrayed by puppets could. The skills used, which are usually passed down in families from father to son, involve manipulating crafted wooden marionettes are to enact classic stories of kings and romances.
A countrys films can often provide insight into ordinary life and current ideas better than any guidebook or magazine feature, so a trip to the cinema as you travel in Burma can be an interesting cultural experience. Burmese cinematic tradition can be traced back to the 1910s, when director Ohn Maung produced the countrys first silent films, and has a history of tackling political subject matter both from a conservative and dissenting point of view. Modern mainstream cinema here consists of a mix of comedy, romance and drama, and one of the best places to catch a film is at the Thamada Cinema, a beautiful art deco theatre in Rangoon, located near Aung San Stadium.