In Singapore, expatriates enjoy a traditional treat
October 4 - 10, 2010
Performers take part in an anyeint pwe directed by Maung Myo Min. Pic: Aye Zaw Myo
“WE are Myanmar and we never ever forget our country wherever we go. We don’t do anything that damages the name of our country,” reads a short slogan on a signboard advertising the visit of an anyeint pwe, or traditional dancing group.
Next to the signboard, the Myanmar national anthem is being played.
For those living in Singapore, the visit of the Khit Thit Hninzi Anyeint (Modern Rose) in February was a sad reminder of the people and traditions they had left behind in their native land.
Ko Aung Moe, a resident of Singapore, says watching the anyeint troupe gave him goosebumps.
For the past five years he has worked at Handicap International’s Singapore office and he described watching the anyeint pwe as a bittersweet experience.
“I was thrilled to watch anyeint here. I didn’t think it was special when I was in my hometown but now it is like watching a memorable film,” he said. “But I also feel as if I have no chance to go home and miss [Myanmar] even more [when I watch anyeint].”
Director of the performance, Maung Myo Min, also known as Yintwin Phyit, told The Myanmar Times anyeint pwe was a powerful and unique symbol of Myanmar culture and character.
“Myanmar people living abroad are desperate to watch anyeint because it reminds them about their country at a time when they are away from home. With anyeint, they have the chance to laugh out loud at some of the habits of their home country,” he said.
Anyeint is a traditional performance featuring up to 10 dancers, who are usually accompanied by an assortment of comedians and musicians. Some anyeint shows feature a grand saing waing, or traditional orchestra, but overseas performances usually have a simpler musical setup.
The show generally revolves around a minthami, or princess, and two or three of her courtiers. In between the minthami’s dancing scenes, comedians eloquently converse with the audience, presenting a mixture of straight-out humour as well as satire of current events. In some regards, it is a battle between beauty and comedy.
Often, the comedians give tragic events a positive or offbeat spin, which Maung Myo Min said helps people forget their sadness. Cyclone Nargis was popular with anyeint comedians last year, while more recent performances have satired the Mingalar Market fire and 2010 election.
“Jokes used in an anyeint reflect the current situation in an amusing way. People watch the performance mostly because they want to laugh,” Maung Myo Min said.
He said he creates new jokes each year for the anyeint performance based on his personal experiences or events happening in Myanmar.
“I am always listening to what people say, to their feelings and even the gossip that is being spread,” he said. “Laughing is a kind of medicine, and it heals some of the struggles and stresses for Myanmar living abroad.”
The style of jokes in the anyeint depends on the audience, and a good director will know how best to craft a performance for a crowd in Yangon, as opposed to Mandalay, Taunggyi or Singapore.
But Maung Myo Min said having famous actors in the anyeint lineup is almost as important as the quality of the gags.
“If an anyeint perform-ances feature famous actors, the audience is usually happier and it’s easier to have a successful show,” he said.
The February anyeint pwe in Singapore was Maung Myo Min’s fifth turn as a director, and he has also coordinated eight zat pwe, a kind of traditional opera.
He says he plans to hold a second performance in the island state in October and will also conduct zat pwe (traditional opera) there in the future.
“It is hard to arrange a zat pwe in a foreign country. We can’t carry all the backdrops and props from Myanmar. If I have chance I will work with some of the many Myanmar artists living abroad to make the foreign zat pwe a possibility,” he said.