Song and Dance in Myanmar

Kinnari in a Burmese dance

The elaborate costumes of a kinnara and kinnari in a dance performance I saw in Myanmar was stunning. The butterfly wings were attached to the arms and back of the dancers, so that they could be opened and closed. The music was a simple percussion instrument. This part of the dance was introduced with a simpler dance where two women seem to be plucking flowers. When they leave, the kinnara and kinnari arrive in the same implied setting: perhaps a forest glade with flowers. The whirling movements are accompanied by opening and closing of the wings, and end in brief poses, for example the one in the featured photo.

Kinnara and kinnari in an embrace in a Burmese dance

The pair dance together across the stage. The male character wears a mask, the female is made up, but without a mask. I wondered whether this is a left over of a time when only women danced. The male falls to the ground: asleep? The female keeps dancing. Eventually the male rises, and the performance ends with them coming together to embrace (photo above).

Puppet show in Myanmar

There was a claim that the movements in the kinnara dance were influenced by the movements of Burmese puppets. It could be, but to my untrained it seemed like a long shot. The puppets were elaborately dressed, but the stories were simple gags. The puppet in this photo is Zaw Gyi, a magical figure who loves to spend his time alone, but when needed can use his magic to do anything he wishes. Not only is he a powerful figure, the fact that his movements can be very complicated means that the person who manipulates Zaw Gyi is one of the master puppeteers.

Complicated percussion instrument in Myanmar

The puppet show was accompanied by music. The musicians had a separate stage next to the main stage. I walked up there to take a look at the instruments. There were several kinds of percussion instruments and a flute. But the one which looked most elaborate is shown in the photo above. I learnt later that it is called Kyee-naung Waing. Interestingly no stringed instrument was used.

Elephant dance in the streets of Amarapura

A large and diverse country like Myanmar will have many different dance forms of course. The first one that I saw was a dance with two people in an elephant costume, with the music playing out of a boom box. I saw a later version with the two dressed as a takin. The takin dancers were accompanied by a Shan long drum. There was a Pa-O folk dance and a Shan folk dance that I managed to see. They seem to be significantly different from each other. I’m sure that if we had stayed longer we would have come across much more.

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Author: I. J. Khanewala

I travel on work. When that gets too tiring then I relax by travelling for holidays. The holidays are pretty hectic, so I need to unwind by getting back home. But that means work.

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