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Friday, Feb. 6, 2009

Myanmarese puppetry comes to Japan


Staff writer

The trials and tribulations of Myanmar — which is run by a junta and often in the headlines for all the wrong reasons — can often take the focus away from the fact that the nation has a rich cultural history.

News photo
Master: U Pan Aye, the leader of Mandalay Marionettes Theatre group, controls a puppet. HITOSHI FURUYA

Puppet theater from Myanmar, by the Mandalay Marionettes Theatre group, will attempt to showcase one aspect of the nation's tradition when it performs in Kanto on Feb. 7 and Feb. 10.

"Youk-the pwe" is a Burmese puppet art form that developed during the nation's Konbaung Dynasty (1752-1885).

The Mandalay Marionettes Theatre is a group of puppeteers that practice youk-the pwe in Mandalay, the capital of Burma during the last years of the Konbaung Dynasty (1860-85). The dynasty encouraged the art form, and at the time its popularity exceeded that of plays.

The puppets used in the shows are about 60 cm tall, and puppeteers control them with more than 10 strings. During the performance, the Mandalay Marionettes Theatre group use exquisite puppets made using traditional Burmese craft techniques and materials, such as bamboo, lacquerware and embroidery.

The art form uses 28 different types of puppet — 12 of animals and 16 of people. However, the puppets of a prince and princess called Mintha and Minthamee are considered the most beautiful.

The leader of the Mandalay Marionettes Theatre group is 78-year-old U Pan Aye, who started his training as a puppeteer when he was 18, and has operated the puppet of Minthamee, the show's star, since he was 23. Pan Aye has more than 20 pupils across the country and has been actively promoting the development of the next generation of puppeteers.

In the Japan performances, Pan Aye and others will perform a story called "The Creation." The show's puppets are a white horse, a symbol of the creation of the universe, a person with supernatural powers called Zawgyi, a number of villagers, and Mintha and Minthamee.

Mandalay Marionettes Theatre group will perform at Lazona Kawasaki Plazasol, a 5-min. walk from Kawasaki Station, on Feb. 7 at 3 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. On Feb. 10 they perform at Cascade Hall, Tokyo, a 5-min. walk from Exit 5 of Hanzomon Station on the Hanzomon Line in Tokyo at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tickets are ¥3,000 (¥2,500 for students) in advance, or ¥3,500 (¥3,000 for students) at the door. For more information and reservation, call Foundation Modern Puppet Center at (044) 777-2228.


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