Fall 2012 CSEAS SPEAKER SERIES
A Presentation by Bryce Beemer, PhD Candidate in History
Dancing Partners: The influence of Thai-style Ramayana masked-dance on the art and culture of 18th and 19th century Burma
Location: Tokioka Room, Moore 319; UHM
When: Friday, October 19, 12:00 P.M.
The Burmese military conquest of central Thai state of Ayutthaya in 1767 resulted in the transfer of thousands of Thai artisans to Burma’s capital. Among these artisans were palace dancers, musicians, and other performing artists. The result was a large-scale transfer of Thai performing arts traditions, such as the masked-dance version of the Ramayana, into the Burmese royal setting. By 1789, palace officials were charged with translating the Ramayana play and accompanying songs from Thai into Burmese. Innovative hybrid theatrical traditions called Yodaya [Ayutthaya] dance and music soon developed and the masked-dance Ramayana became the most popular royal entertainment in upper Burma.
Yet, this cultural exchange was not limited to the performing arts. The key to the Thai Ramayana’s rapid popularity was its remarkable visuality in terms of its slow balletic grace, acrobatics maneuvers, and vividly decorated masks. This visuality spread through all 10 of the royally sanctioned fine arts (pan seh myo); and when Ramayana characters appear in woodcarving, lacquer ware, silver work, etc., they are invariably dancing. The Thai-style Ramayana also influenced the artistic and ritual practices of other captive communities in upper-Burma as Hindus captured in war from both Manipur and Arakan began to enact the Ramayana following the performance traditions of captured Thai dancers and musicians.
A key point of this paper is to examine both the direct and indirect effect of captive populations, such as the Thai, on artistic exchange by looking at the spillover effect of the Ramayana on many artistic and ritual practices in upper Burma.
Bryce Beemer is a graduate student in the History Department who focuses on Thailand, Burma and Manipur. This presentation is based on research conducted over 18 months in Burma and Manipur funded by the Fulbright (DDRA) and the Watumull Foundation.
Center for Southeast Asian Studies
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