Decades of military rule have had a stifling effect on Myanmar’s entertainment industry. Visitors tend to spend evenings in hotels and restaurants, although the big cities also have a handful of venues that showcase traditional music, dance, and puppetry. The performers are mostly graduates of Mandalay’s National School of Performing Arts, a crucible of talent for classical Burmese forms that now survive largely due to government support and income from tourism. The country’s once thriving movie industry has fallen on hard times, and today its films tend to be low- budget roman tic comedies on DVD; cinemas survive on Hollywood and Bollywood block- busters, and Cantonese Kung Fu flicks. The club scene, although limited to a small num- ber of upscale hotels, is developing fast with the rise of the Internet and a new generation of well-heeled youngsters in the big cities.
Classical Burmese Music and Dance
Most of Myanmar’s five-star hotels, and a few dedicated theaters in the big cities, host regular recitals of Burmese music and dance .
Enlivened by striking traditional attire, the performances are as much of a feast for the eyes as the ears. They vividly underline how exotic and otherworldly Burma’s classical culture must have appeared to foreign trav- elers in the 19th century, when the elegant forms currently staged were developed, refined, and codified in the court of the Konbaung Dynasty.
As in centuries past, Mandalay city is the place where vis itors can most reliably expect to experi ence traditional music and dance presented in an authentic form. The Mintha Theater, near the palace com- plex, hosts a special tourist show from 8:30 to 9:30pm each evening, featuring top dancers in fabu lous costumes accom- panied by a five-piece classical orchestra. In Yangon, the equiv- alent venue is the impressive Karaweik Palace, floating on Kandawgyi Lake , where traditional songs and dances are presented against a sump- tuous backdrop.
Pwe and A-nyeint
Apart from nat festivals, it is almost impossible to find traditional pwe, but perfor- mances of its folk theater form, a-nyeint , are staged daily by Mandalay’s world- famous Moustache Brothers. Their notoriety derives from the fact that they spent years in detention for parodying the military gov ernment, and that their fate was publicized by Amnesty International. Ever since, crowds of foreign visitors have filled the make shift theater in their home in down town Mandalay to experience the show – a mix of slapstick, song, clowning, and satire, delivered in often incom prehensible English. Although Par Par Lay, the group leader, died in 2013, Lu Maw and Lu Zaw continue to per form. The rest of the com- pany is made up of the wives and daughters-in-law of the trio, as well as members of the wider family. Many visitors complain that the show has become overcommercial ized and has little entertainment value, but it is nevertheless a cultural institution in the city.
While most culture shows held at hotels and venues in the country usually include a short taste of traditional puppetry, only Mandalay Marionettes, in a tiny theater near the palace complex, stage complete per- formances, with several different puppets and live music. Shows last an hour and could include a short introductory talk and buffet supper, as well as musical interludes on the Burmese harp, and a memorable candle dance.
Myanmar’s government censors are still wary of English- language movies, though things are starting to change, and mainstream Hollywood fare is increasingly common on the silver screen in Yangon and Mandalay. However, imported Indian, Cantonese, and South Korean movies still dominate. Since the onset of military rule in the 1960s, the country’s own film industry has been in sharp decline. Only around 70 of the 244 grand cinema halls that used to exist in Myanmar sur- vive. However, foreign invest- ment has fueled the growth Yangon and Mandalay of new multi screen cineplexes with state-of-the-art digital 3D pro- jectors and sur round sound. In Yangon, two of the most conveniently located include the one in the Taw Win Center on Pyay Road, near the National Museum, and in the Junction Maw Tin on Anawrahta Road.
Clubs and Bars
Yangon is the only place in the country with anything close to what foreign tourists would recognize as a nightlife. A handful of small, exclusive clubs and bars attached to the city’s five-star hotels – patronized by a mix of youngsters from elite Myanmar families, aid workers, expatriates, and business travelers – host DJ gigs most weekends, and dancing until around midnight. The most consistently lively are the Music Club at the Park Royal, DJ Bar near the Inya Lake Hotel, and GTR on Kaba Aye Pagoda Road, the last being one of the few nightspots where the female clientele aren’t predominantly sex workers. BME2, near the Summit Parkview Hotel, is similar to GTR, but tends to attract a slightly older crowd, and stays open the latest (usually until 3am). For local atmosphere, try 19th Street in Chinatown, which transforms into the Beer Bar Street (also called Myanmar Lan Kwai Fong) night market, where an alfresco meal of grilled meat and cold beers can be eaten at rows of Formica tables.