A girl was comforting a weeping boy on the screen. Then, shapes into shapes, the silhouettes quickly transfigure into a hut and a tree. The figure of a woman comes out from the opposite side and the boy runs towards with joy.
This is a scene in the shadow play performed by a local dance group Junior Creative at the quarterfinals of America’s Got Talent: Champions (Season 2) in the United States two days ago. It is a moving story about the lives of children victims in Myanmar’s armed conflicts.
The performance was so compelling that even Simon Cowell among the judges commented, “It’s quite amazing. We see this a lot on the show – young people at your age are able to make a point more clearly than people who are three times older than you.”
The team is the winner of the Myanmar’s Got Talent 2018 and is now representing their motherland among the talent show’s champions from different parts of the world.
The dance crew came to life when the leader Khant Bhone Shein and friends decided to take up dancing as a career after high school. The shadow dancers came into the limelight with a touching drama about an underage victim of sexual abuse at the season 5 of Myanmar’s Got Talent in 2018.
Their performance won the hearts of both the judges and millions of fans across Myanmar.
“We competed in Season 2 of Myanmar’s Got Talent with a robot dance – we started as a street dance crew – but won no prizes,” Khant Bhone recalls.
After learning from their experience, Khant Bhone and his team started finding ways to add a unique “flavour” to their choreography.
“Our first experiment has showed that dancing alone is not enough. We had to come up with something creative. This is how we found ways to combine street dance with a shadow play.”
Shadow dance is tricky. First, unlike ordinary dance, you cannot monitor your movements in front of the mirror when training. The cloth screen is backlit with a projector and the dancers take positions between the screen and the light source. Since the screen on which the figures appear is opaque, the dancers need someone on the opposite end of the screen to check if their shadows fall in the right places.
“We learn everything from YouTube. It’s our instructor” admits Khant Bhone, adding: “Perspective is vital in shadow plays. For example, a horse. We need two people to make up a horse – one for the head and one for the body. The shadow of the person that takes care of the body must be smaller than that of the head or the horse will be disproportionate.”
The closer the person to the cloth screen, the bigger their shadow is. Here comes the second challenge: What is the right distance from the screen?
“You have to practise time and again to find the right composition of the shadows,” Khant Bhone explains. “At the same time, two people have to move synchronically or they will end up as a joke. So, you have to picture how your act should look in your mind before practising it.”
For them, a 3-minute story takes at least a month of preparations and trainings. His knowledge of animation and video editing helps a lot in creating backdrops of the plays. Some environments are computer-generated, like the cityscape of Yangon which is impossible to depict with humans.
The team is now composed of 13-member shadow dance crew and 10-strong street dancers. Ever since their victory at the season 5 of Myanmar’s Got Talent, they have been very busy performing at various staged events, creating commercials, and of course, training for the champions’ season of America’s Got Talent.
“I want to advise young people not to give up their passion. When we started dancing, we didn’t have a clue that we would be where we’re now. We just wanted to dance.”
They did not make it to the semifinals. But the shadow dancers have shed a light on the situations of the country’s armed conflicts and proved on the global stage that Myanmar’s got talent!
Watch the performance below and follow them on Facebook @juniorcreativedancecrew.