‘It Is an Artist’s Job to Innovate’

By Wei Yan Aung 28 April 2015

Moe Min was born to a family of Burmese traditional dancers and since he was a boy, he took part in on stage musical performances and epic dramas featuring the Jataka tales, which detail the Buddha’s previous lives. He went on to follow in the steps of his father, the famous traditional dancer Sein Mar Din, becoming a traditional dancer himself.

He rose in popularity by adopting a modern take on the country’s traditional dances, combining the latter with the contemporary flair of well-known dancers like Michael Jackson and Mithun Chakraborty. His skill won him gold medals two consecutive years in the dramatic performance category of a government-organized traditional Burmese performing arts competition.

Moe Min sat down with The Irrawaddy to talk about traditional Burmese culture and its modern incarnation, evolving performing arts tastes and prospects for Burmese dance making a mark on the international stage.

Which gets more support, traditional arts performances or modern musical shows?

It can be said that the two have an equal number of fans. People want to see and enjoy new things and are impressed by modern musical performances. Fans had seen enough of the traditional performing arts. But then, in this open age, fans have begun to fall in love again with traditional performing arts. So, the level [of interest] is at parity again.

Modern musical performances are often criticized. What do you have to say about that?

While some fans welcome and love modern musical performances, some people think that it goes against the values of traditional performing arts. They think that performers of traditional performing arts have to preserve cultural artistic heritage and if they don’t do so, they are not real performers of traditional performing arts. But artists will innovate and entertain with new things. It is their job.

In fact, it is the responsibility of the government to preserve the heritage of Burma’s traditional performing arts. Culture and heritage are a little bit different. Culture changes. Looking back at the history of Burmese culture, it has changed through cultural exchanges. Different categories of arts combined and evolved into a culture that encompasses the fundamental characteristics of Burma. The culture changes. If it can’t be changed, it is called heritage. The culture has changed a lot. It has become contemporary. Performers of traditional performing arts should inform the people that their dance styles have changed and merged with contemporary arts. Now, we are trying to bring about contemporary culture by combining our culture with the cultures of other countries.

What is needed to bring Burma’s traditional performing arts onto the international stage?

We need to focus on presentation if we are to go international. If we can modify our presentation to meet international standards, we will get attention from the world. For example, even Burmese people do not like duet dances. Why? We need to find out the answer. There is no interpreter or subtitles; foreigners watch the dance and don’t understand. They don’t know what the dancer is talking about.

To bring our traditional performing arts onto the international stage, we need to improve it in every respect. Otherwise, only Burmese people will watch it.

Traditional performing arts professionals met the president in 2014 and called for building theaters. How did the government respond?

We have asked [the government] to arrange theaters and venues for performers of Burma’s traditional performing arts. We want land plots. To this day, there is no entertainment zone in new towns. There should be a venue for any traditional performing arts troupe, any singer, or any entertainer in town. I don’t know why there has been no follow-up. It is the duty of those who are responsible [to follow through].

What are you doing as an artist now?

Now, I don’t have a traditional performing arts troupe. As a performer, I help traditional performing arts troupes if they need it. I have also established Anawmar Thukhuma Arts Service Co., and I serve as the secretary.

What is your advice to younger generations of traditional performance artists?

They need to be well-versed in traditional performing arts. They can’t lose track of the times and modern technologies, but at the same time, they can’t only focus on technology. Those who express vocally their love for traditional arts and culture are also focusing on materials and technology because fans love to see it.

It seems that performances are not complete without the use of materials and technologies. It seems that they are testing the strength of each other. In fact, it should be balanced. Skills and materials should be input equally. While the older generations need to hand down the traditional performing arts, the younger generations need to value the older generations and learn from them. Only then will they be able to preserve traditional performing arts.