Living heritage in downtown Yangon
Graduates of the National University of Art and Culture in Mandalay performed traditional songs and dances at a newly restored heritage building on the corner of Merchant and 39th streets over the weekend.
MORE like birds than humans, the royal young lovers fluttered and preened. Showing their affection through the traditional Shan Kain Nari dance, the duettists were performing, to the music of a harp, at a house at the corner of Merchant and 39th streets in Yangon. The July 10 event took place in a home renovated earlier this year by Turquoise Mountain in partnership with Yangon Heritage Trust. The sustainable development NGO, which has restored and rebuilt around 112 historic buildings in Kabul, Afghanistan, was invited by National League for Democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in 2014 with hopes of enabling similar work. Yangon’s 189 officially designated heritage buildings are fertile ground for the artisanal restoration that Turquoise Mountain offers.
The dance event represents the cultural and community aspects of the project. The Prince and Princess, U Shwe Yoe and Daw Moe, each performed a single dance, with accompanying songs.
The Prince was played by Ko Wai Yan Aung, a graduate of traditional dance from the National University of Art and Culture Mandalay. He has gone on to perform and coach Myanmar traditional dancers.
“The Kain Nari dance has many meanings and many versions. It can be seen as a tale from history, but later versions can be interpreted in ways to suit the modern era,” he said.
Much as Ko Wai Yan Aung loves traditional dance, the pay is not enough to make it a full-time job.
“I danced in front of many foreigners and was glad to share our traditional dance. But despite the excellence of my university tuition, I never felt I knew enough about it,” he said, half-apologising for not providing a more detailed background.
Event organiser Anna Livia Cullinan said more performances were planned for the same venue, and training in traditional dance could also be organised for anyone wanting to learn more.
The house renovation project employed 250 artisans and builders. The apartment complex now boasts modern conveniences, electricity, sanitation and water supply after decades of decay.
‘The Kain Nari dance has many meanings and many versions. It can be seen as a tale from history, but later versions can be interpreted in ways to suit the modern era.’ Ko Wai Yan Aung, dancer
Ko Wai Yan Aung, left, dances alongside Ma Khin La Pyae Wun at the traditional dance event held at Turquoise Mountain’s first completely restored heritage building on Merchant Street and 39th Street.
Nandar Zaw Win, center, practices on the harp as Ko Wai Yan Aung, left, and Ma Khin La Pyae Wun, right, adjust their costumes.
Ko Wai Yan Aung said he studied dance at the National University for Art and Culture in Mandalay. He performed the Kain Nari dance, which tells the story of a prince and princess falling in love.