We Burmese love amusement. We throng the movie theaters and will sit up till dawn watching an all night pwé. Music and dance are part of our frequent festivals and family celebrations. But the truth is that the world of Burmese entertainment is now going through a period of rather chaotic transition. Our old theater traditions are being discarded or watered down—and what is taking their place has as yet no clear direction nor much artistic quality.
Thus if you were to go tonight to a typical Burmese pwè you would not see one of our classical dance-drama zats in the old Mandalay court style, but a variety program including dance numbers, skits, comic dialogue, singing, and perhaps a fragment from one of the old plays—all strung together, hour after hour, with lively musical accompaniment. The public loves it, but it is not great theatrical art.
The word pwé might be roughly translated as ''show," and this gives the key to the nature of our theater today. The zats do have plots, but they are the familiar Buddhist tales or historical legends which we learned as children, so there is no element of novelty or surprise. What we come to see is the performing—the virtuosity of the actors.
The dance numbers in our pwés are usually drawn from two main style traditions: one which is pure dance, with little symbolical content (see Plate 22 in the art section) and another which mimes the dramatic stories of the zats (see Wun Tha's sketches on the following pages), a form which came to us from Siam.