Thai Studies Program: Dancing Partners: Thai war Captives, the Ramayana Dance-Drama and the Transformation of the Burmese Visual Arts


Thursday, April 2, 2015, 4:00pm to 6:00pm


CGIS South Rm. S250, 1730 Cambridge Street

The Burmese conquest of Ayutthaya in 1767 entailed the transfer of hundreds of Thai artisans to Burma’s capital, including 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, a transformative event in the history of Burma’s performing arts.

Yet this cultural exchange was not limited to the performing arts. The key to the Thai Ramayana’s rapid rise in popularity was its visual language of slow balletic grace, acrobatics maneuvers, colorful masks, and impressive costumes. This new visuality spread through everyone of Burma's royally-sanctioned fine arts. Through this creolizing process of reinvention and reconfiguration, the Thai Ramayana radically altered Burmese theatrical, musical and artistic traditions. This study looks across the breadth of traditional arts in Burma to gauge the full scope of the artistic exchange catalyzed by the conquest of Ayutthaya and the capture of Thai artisans.