Arts & Entertainment

Myanmar dance star streams sways online to combat coronavirus

By Lobsang DS Subirana

Bangkok Desk, Aug 25 (efe-epa).- The dancer jolts energetically across a stage, synchronizing his movements to the music that culminates in a climax of frenzied yet graceful moves, freezing after each sway as if to accentuate every pose.

All around, an entourage of support dancers drift in and out of the semicircle, interacting, almost teasing the man dressed in traditional Burmese garments of flashy pink tones.

He ends on an unorthodox one-legged stance as the music suddenly stops, purposely falling to the ground in what evokes a sense of Oriental pantomime, before crowds applaud and he takes a bow.

It’s been over a decade since Phoe Chit’s traditional theatrical show captivated the masses with “Seven Kinds of Dance Performances in the Arts” through grainy VCD images, but he remains ever the icon as a flag bearer of Myanmar’s dance culture.

As he looks to transition into an era of digitization accelerated by the advent of the novel coronavirus pandemic, Phoe Chit recently spoke to EFE about his endeavor to stream his performances and reach out to a wider audience during these times. He also discussed politics, his objectives and what he believes makes a country valuable.

“To tell you the truth, I gathered my whole team about a month ago when the [coronavirus] was a little bit under control. Then we practiced music, prepared a performance and also provided food,” the 38-year-old dancer said about how he had the idea to begin streaming his performances online.

Phoe Chit said he began renovating a space at home about seven years ago where he and his troupe used to practice, slowly turning what used to be a rudimentary stage into a mini-theater which today boasts of air conditioning and soundproof roofing.

He said that while crowds would not be allowed into the theater over space limitations and current health concerns from the pandemic, the new facility would allow the dancer to strengthen his move toward online streaming platforms.

“It is not possible to allow audiences in my mini-theater. I will only perform online. I have been trying to change this media platform for two or three years […] so I will continue with this style,” he said. “According to the current global situation, I will film and broadcast online.”

The dancer said he wanted to send his audience a message through his dance and encourage them to do things that are important to Myanmar’s society.

“I created situations that touch my heart. For example, voting is very important. You need to check the voting list,” he said. “We cannot even say we want a good government without trying to cast a vote. You have to vote. You must vote if you meet this criteria.”

Phoe Chit said he’d also written songs about how to live and remain optimistic during the confinement period prompted by the pandemic, adding that it had affected his entourage too.

His dozens of performers, some of whom have fewer means than him, live under his roof. He said he makes them stay in to avoid any possibility of contagion.

“I don’t let them go out, I keep them here in quarantine. Performing art will be created here. I have about 70 people,” he said. “Some family members from my team do not have houses. So these people stay in my compound.”

This has faced Phoe Chit with a slew of problems such as managing the logistics of keeping so many people virus-free and the economic costs of feeding his entourage, but he remains determined to see it through.

“I also have financial difficulties. But I do not give up, I keep on trying. How to get through these difficulties? […] It is not human to give up on a problem […] We cannot say sorry and quit,” he said, adding that “there is a solution to any problem and any situation.”

Something he hopes will improve his situation are his new online shows, which he has been broadcasting this month.

Performances will be about two to three hours and broadcast for free for the rest of August, according to the dancer, after which he will charge 7,777 kyat (about $5.7) for three months worth of content.

“I went for a number that I really like,” Phoe Chit said about the curious subscription fee. “For three months, It will cost only this. And with one login, a lot of family members will also be able to watch.”

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