Myanmar dance ‘at a crossroads’ as new program launches in Mandalay
KEEPING the old arts alive, and helping to restore Mandalay as a city of artists and performers, a new theatre and school for traditional dancing have been launched on 58th Street, between 29th and 30th streets, said general manager U Tun Tun.
The Innwa School and Minthar theatre will operate in tandem, with proceeds from the theatre funding education for dancers who will, eventually, perform there. U Tun Tun says plans are in place to move the educational facility to its new location from temporary premises it has occupied since June.
“We’ve accepted 13 students to learn dances for performing at the theatre,” he said in an interview with The Myanmar Times. “The purpose of the school is to keep alive the ancient Myanmar art of zatthaban [traditional performances]. This will help encourage continued interest in Myanmar art even as interest in modern dance grows.”
For K4000, patrons can buy their way into Minthar Theatre, which is to be open every night. Getting into the school, however, will be a little more difficult: Only 20 students will be accepted for the two-year course, set to begin anew in June 2017. Applicants should be aged between 10 and 20, and those from remote or rural areas are welcome to apply as well – board and lodging will be provided by the Arts Mandalay Foundation.
Daniel Ehrlich, the foundation’s general director, said international donors had contributed to the school. “I arrived in Myanmar in 1987 and have seen zatthaban. I consider it to be a valuable art, and for the past three years I’ve been thinking about how to preserve it.”
His ruminations led to the realisation that, more than anything, a proper education system needed to be set up in order to keep new generations abreast of the techniques. Founding a school in Mandalay, the cultural foundation of Myanmar, is an attempt to resurrect the city as a base for artists.
“Myanmar dance was famous in the past, but many people have forgotten its value,” he said. “There is a risk it might disappear over the next 10 years if there are not enough skilled teachers.”
U Tun Tun said state shows had replaced such traditional dances as the song-and-dance duet (nha par thwar) and the tragic scene lun khan that formed part of the zatthaban. “Myanmar dance is at a crossroads,” he said. In 1985, more than 30 anyeint (non-dramatic performances) would be performed in Mandalay, but only three can still be seen. – Translation by San Layy
Students at Innwa School rehearse their routines at Minthar Theatre in Mandalay, a recently opened arts initiative to preserve Myanmar’s traditional dances.