PanSuriya Art Post

Mystic Ball


Greg Hamilton became fascinated by caneball or chinlonthe first time he saw and heard one in action: in a Toronto park, in 1981.
The connection was deep, and he began coming to Ne Win-era Burma with the idea of developing his skills and eventually, bringing a team on an international tour. The tour never took place — in the 1990s when he was trying to arrange it, it was difficult to get a passport — and so we benefit from his Plan B: the documentary Mystic Ball. Mystic Ball will be showing at Pansodan Scene on Saturday 15 March 2014 at 6.30 pm. Greg Hamilton will be there, to introduce the documentary and answer questions.

Greg Hamilton came to Pansodan Gallery for an interview on 4 March 2014. He explained that when he first came to Burma in 1986, chinlone was considered a low-prestige, village and dusty street sport, and people were amazed but delighted by his serious interest.

Pansodan: What footage was hardest to cut out of the documentary?

ImageWell, we had shot three hundred fifty hours, which was cut to eighty-three minutes. In a way, the hardest to cut was the playing. I could have had it all just the game. But there were other things that were hard to cut. Like when I played music for elephants in Mandalay Zoo.

Pansodan: What gave you the idea to do that?

I started playing music for zoo animals in the 1970. I was thinking about the animals as being in prison. People were coming, looking, pointing, and no one was sharing anything with the animals. So I started playing music for them. Birds are most responsive, of course.

This time, I was playing for these elephants in Mandalay, and one had killed two people in the last year. The cameraman kept asking me to move closer and closer. It was raining, the ground was very muddy. I was kind of scared. So anyway that was an interesting experience.

Pansodan: What about women playing?

I think that the number of women playing has increased slowly here because of the modesty factor. Women don’t want to be seen in shorts. When I first came here, a mini-skirt would have been unthinkable. A lot of the women, if they got married, their husbands would forbid them to playing chinloun, because they didn’t want people seeing their legs. But maybe now that more girls wear miniskirts, there will be more women playing.

Pansodan: From your point of view, how’s the development in the game itself here?

The game has been evolving. It might be a thousand or a thousand five hundred years old. It is changing here, too. When I first came here, for example, the balls used to be a little smaller and the cane used to be much better. They can’t get really good quality cane now for balls. I still have some of the original forty balls that I got in 1986… I’ve been meaning to bring one back here to show them here.

The moves have been changing too. There are about two hundred named moves now, more and more. It is more acrobatic now, but less elegant. The older players put more emphasis on the pose, similar to dance poses that you took as you kicked the ball with a certain move. Now it’s got more of this breakdance, kind of young feel.