Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Zarni Myo Win | Traditional Dance Troupes In Myanmar

Photo © Zarni Myo Win | All Rights Reserved
Due to my involvement in a long term project documenting Chinese opera in the Chinese diaspora, my "radar' is finely tuned to discover similar examples of music, drama and dance in Asia...and I discovered Myanmar's traditional dancing form.

As in many other Asian countries, music, dance and drama in Myanmar are a part of everyday life in the country, performed on makeshift stages by the side of the road rather than in elegant venues, and with an audience of chattering and cheering locals gathered for the occasion. Fairs and festivals are often cultural as much as religious in appeal, with traveling troupes of artists performing pwe, a distinctive Burmese blend of theatre, song and dance, mixing slapstick comedy with stories from the great Buddhist and Hindu epics.

In contrast with Chinese opera, which is struggling to survive in certain regions of Southeast Asia, a large number of Burmese troupes travel around the country's villages and during pagoda festivals, staging performances throughout the countryside during the dry season. They perform on temporary bamboo stages, whilst audiences sit on mats spread in front of the stage. 

Although the traditional dance-drama in Myanmar is said to have originated from Siam (nowadays Thailand) through the conquest of Ayutthaya in 1767, when a Burmese king returned with royal Siamese dancers, the similarities (at least backstage) with Chinese opera are striking.

It is such troupes that Zarni Myo Win documents in his wonderful Behind The Curtain project. 

Photo © Zarni Myo Win | All Rights Reserved
Zarni Myo Win is an award-winning photographer from Yangon (Myanmar), who travels around his country to document its culture, lifestyle and heritage. He is currently working on a long term photography project on Myanmar's traditional dancing troupes. His passion is to document the lives of Myanmar traditional opera performers, real life of Myanmar people, and patterns and lines in landscape.

I met Zarni in Kuala Lumpur in 2017 when he received the Overall Winner Award in the Travel Photographer Society competition. He also won many photography awards such as Third Place Winner, National Awards, Sony World Photography Awards, First Place Winner, Portrait & Travel Category of Mobile Photo Awards (2017), Second Place Winner, Others Category, IPPAwards (2017) and iPhone Photographer of the Year, IPPAwards (2018).

Unassuming but exceptionally talented, Zarni epitomizes the new and young talent that is emerging from Myanmar, and it is with considerable impatience that I'm waiting to see more of his work...and that of his peers.