Travelling performance troupes bring traditional shows to Myanmar communities

Hanzar Moe Win, 33, one of male leading dancers of San Pya Thabin troupe, performs Duet Dance, so called Nha-par-thwar, at Kyauktawgyee pagoda festival in Mandalay, central Myanmar, 22 October 2016. Photo: Lynn Bo Bo/EPA

Across Myanmar, in big cities and small towns, the performing Zat Pwe troupes crisscross the country bringing music, comedy, dance and theatre to crowds of adoring fans.

The troupes are following a tradition that began in the 19th century of Burmese theatrical performances.

San Pya Thabin is one of the most famous troupes in the country. Having started more than 50 years ago, it now numbers 85 performers.

The troupe is led by three siblings; two brothers, Hanzar Moe Win, Aggar Moe Win; and one sister, Tinzar Moe Win.

They are the grandchildren of the troupe's founder and then leading male dancer. It was later taken over by their father who became the famous dancer Moe Win, and now the brothers and sister continue the legacy.

The performance troupe started with Burmese traditional dance, but this changed after the 1988 uprising when the military junta cracked down on freedoms, according to Hanzar, 33, who recently passed his leading role onto his younger brother, 28-year-old Aggar.

People gather in front of the main entrance of SanPya Thabin Theater before the show start at Kyauktawgyee pagoda festival in Mandalay, central Myanmar, 19 October 2016. Photo: Lynn Bo Bo/EPA  

"The military regime did not want large gatherings of people after the 1988 protests against the political regime, so our troupes mostly focused on rural communities," he told epa.

Due to the lack of electricity and transportation for rural audiences, many people travelled large distances on foot to attend the shows.

San Pya and other troupes performed through the night, with shows typically starting at 10 pm and finishing at 6 or 7 am, allowing the audience to be entertained all night and then be able to return to their homes in the safety of daylight.

The additional time for the show gave them space to add more variety to their act, so they branched out into modern music, singing, opera and comedy, while dances and traditional orchestras also entertained the audiences.

The most important part of Zat Pwe - which means 'story show' in Burmese language - remains the Duet Dance, or Nha-par-thwar, in which the male leading dancer performs a traditional dance with one or more female dancers.

A man plays drums inside circular frame during SanPya Thabin performance at Kyauktawgyee pagoda festival in Mandalay, central Myanmar, 21 October 2016. Photo: Lynn Bo Bo/EPA

San Pya, Phoe Chit and Swan theaters are still the three biggest among several Zat Pwe troupes in Myanmar.

They travel with troupes of about 100 people for at least 10 months of the year, performing an average of 150 to 160 nights annually.

"Some people say that we are like gypsies, indeed we only stop performing two months in every year and travel and perform the rest of year," said Tinzar, 35.

"Even the time we stop in rainy season, we practice for the upcoming year," she added.

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