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Zat Pwe Traveling Troupe

Photographer: Lynn Bo Bo


All across Myanmar, in big cities and small towns, the performing Zat Pwe troupes bring song, comedy, dance and theater to the people of Burma. They are following a tradition of Burmese theatrical performances that stared in the 19th century.


The San Pya Thabin Theater is one of the most famous Zat Pwe troupes in Myanmar. It was founded more than 50 years ago and now numbers 85 performers. The troupe is led by three family members; the two brothers Hanzar Moe Win and Aggar Moe Win and their sister Tinzar Moe Win. They are the grandchildren of the troupe's founder and then leading male dancer. It was later taken over by their father who became the famous dancer Moe Win, and now the siblings continue the legacy.


The performance troupe started with traditional Burmese dance, but this changed after the 1988 uprising when freedoms were clamped down by the military generals led junta, according to Hanzar Moe Win, 33, who recently passed his leading role to his younger brother, Aggar Moe Win, 28. 'The military regime did not want large gatherings of people after 1988 protests against the political regime, so our troupes mostly focused on rural communities.'


Due to a lack of electricity and transportation for rural audiences, many have to walk and use alternative transportation from very far to attend the performances. The SanPya Thabin and other troupes decided to perform all-night long until dawn, with performances starting at 10pm and finishing at 6 or 7am the next morning, allowing the audience to be entertained all night, and then be able to return to their homes far away in the safety of daylight. This additional time for the show meant space for more content and variety in their acts, so they added modern music, singing, opera and comedy, while duet dance and traditional orchestra also entertain the audiences.


The San Pya, Phoe Chit and Swan theaters remain the three biggest among several Zat Pwe troupes in Myanmar. They travel with troupes of about 100 people at least ten months of the year, performing 150-160 nights on average per year. In Burmese language Zat means the story and Pwe means the show. The male dancers, Min Tha, take the leading roles in the performances. 'Some people say that we are like gypsies, indeed we only stop performing for two months every year and travel and perform the rest of year. Even the time we stop during rainy season, we practice for the upcoming year.' said Tinzar Moe Win, 35, a female lead dancer. The most important part of Zat Pwe is the Duet Dance, or Nha-par-thwar, in which the male leading dancer performs with one or more female dancers in a traditional dance.