Thursday, 26 June 2003  
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Chitrasena - the living legend

by Gwen Herat

Dream on, Master: for the sake of your nation

Chitrasena Dance company, the most respected and celebrated theatre of Sri Lanka has the country's dance traditions richly preserved with its choreography based on movements that date back to centuries and handed down by the Masters of this art. Sri Lanka's fabulous legends and mythology are reincarnated by the ballads upon the throbbing sounds of drums.

Kandyan dancing is the classical performing art in our country and who is a better custodian than Chitrasena. As with Asian countries dancing has a strong religious element. A special feature in Kandyan dancing is the skill put into its costumes, especially the headwear. Dressed in their brilliance no one could stake a claim than Chitrasena to fill its volume. Though exacting in demands, both girls and boys overcome the strain and exhaustion to become the perfect symbols of the Kandyan dance.

The throbbing drums in the centre of waves of motion that ripples across a stage lit with fire and emotion. Chitrasena appears like a descending Sun God. Few dancers have mastered stillness amidst the roaring thunder when a ballet is at its peak, on the scale achieved by Chitrasena, the moment he pauses to change a stance. The flash of revelation when the audience holds its breath on both sides of the footlights, is the spectacular effect of which he is the master. Chitrasena never had greater need for his capacity to intensify repose than he did on stage and to its prelude. There was magic in the air before his entry to the stage. His boundless energy and appetite very often shared by his equally talented wife, Vajira, was the hallmark of his success.

Chitrasena never had a parallel nor a challenger and I doubt I will see one in my lifetime. As a Kandyan dancer, the latitude he was allowed was without precedence, whether off stage or on. Whether derived from a syllabus or not, he had his own steps, movements, jumps, costumes, etc. Nothing was too small or too big for his beloved art. He was the Master unto himself and the icon to us.

He impounded the destruction of our classical dancing to bring back the pure form of art that is our culture and heritage; our hungry nation was searching for over fifty years ago. The Western influence slowly gave way to our own culture and Kandyan dancing under its doyen, sparkled and sparkled to eternity. The fresh air of Kandyan dancing was the right gust at right time and with time on, his energy became infectious. The young hopefuls like me came under how wings with stars in their eyes but everyone could not survive the rigours and long hours of dancing all the time.

The symbol of hope and aspiration of the young written all over his body-Chitrasena capable of evoking spectacular dreams.

Kandyan dancing came to stay as did Chitrasena. His tours around the world awakened nations and made them aware that Sri Lanka too had her share of classical dance forms and their legends kept hidden in silent repertory until Chitrasena dug them out of history. He put them on the road of recovery and its discovery was filled with fascination, awe, fulfilment which Chitrasena gave the waiting nation something to be proud of. Though the legacy he gave all of us was a multitude in heritage and culture, what did he get back from a nation? Sad to say nothing. His theatre that was home to thousands, was snatched away and the State never cared to help him in his endeavour. Had they done it, Chitrasena would have been a happier and satisfied man.

However, his great passion for his beloved art, never made him pause. He danced with fervour, passion throbbing at his heart, churling the blood in his veins at every leap. And the drums beat higher and higher, louder and louder and faded to the last single note. HE mesmerised the nation and when the audience left the theatre, the sound still reverberates within its portals as though in reverence to a God.

But as individuals who came under his wings, we as his pupils failed by him. When I look up to his calm, withered face, I feel guilty that I was not able to do my part. But the Master smiles back, his genial expression makes us forget our guilt because the future is steady and he is still there to guide. The living legend, Master, icon, etc. these words hardly describe him nor his personality. His dream remains at a distance. Will it be fulfilled and at eighty two, Chitrasena is still the creator who taught the nation the ethnic value of a cultural heritage. As a student of his, I did not have the courage to pick up my pen and write. I had this fear I would fall short of it. The deep admiration and respect is still there in me.


A classical treat for music lovers

On Saturday May 10, the Kandy Music Society presenting The Young Professional Concert treated music lovers of Kandy to two magical and memorable hours. The venue was the E.O.E. Pereira Theatre, at the University of Peradeniya.

Spanning four centuries, the music ranged from Baroque, through classical and romantic to jazz. The evening offered wide and stimulating contrasts in mood too - switching from sedate courtliness to intense traumatic turbulence of spirit; from the high spirited Hungarian gypsy rhythms, to the inimitably piquant harmony of American jazz, and, most dramatically, from an ambience of tranquillity, to the spine-chilling grotesque setting of the graveyard and vault!

What held the audience spellbound was the virtuosity of the young performers and the deftness with which they switched to contrasting moods on, both strings and keyboard.

The first touch of magic was in Chopin's beautiful Nocturne in G major Op. 37 No. 2 elegantly rendered by Shalindri Jayasinghe. In her second choice of Edvard Grieg's Wedding day at Troldhaugen Op. 65 No. 6 she presented a wealth of mood sketches depicting the simple gaity of the Norwegian people at a wedding feast.

Ruvini Kalupahana's presentation of Franz Schubert's Impromptu in G flat major D 899 No. 3, was characterized by a lilting flow of music, while Brahm's Rhapsody in G minor Op. 79. No. 2 was far more dramatic.

The sole male performer, Nuwan Vithanage's selections for the evening were contrasting genres - Schubert and Gershwin. While the three movements of the Sonata in A minor Op. 164 delightfully displayed the composer's characteristic exuberance of melody, Gershwin's two Preludes were pleasantly stimulating, interspersed with unresolved chords, syncopation and jazz elements.

The violin was the choice of Hasinee Halpe Andre for the evening. She was accompanied by Bridget Halpe on the piano. Moving from Jean-Marie Leclair's regal court Sonata in E minor, to Max Bruch's Kol Nidrei Op. 47 - a poignant Hebrew song of atonement. Hasinee evoked intense pathos. In her final Danse Macabre Op 40 by Camille Saint-Saens, one could picture the twangings and scrapings of the violin beckoning the dead from their graves! Chaucer's "Death", orchestrating the rattlings and scrapings of grotesque skeletons in the vault, flashed across my mind, as I closed my eyes.

Mercifully, the mood was lifted by Franz Liszt's Rhapsody No. 12 in C sharp minor brilliantly rendered by Chaturika Rajapakse.

I was transported to the plains of Hungary to be among the flamboyant gypsies. Her second choice for the evening was Sergei Rachmaninov's Elegie in E flat minor Op.3 No. 1, which displayed sheer mastery as the tranquil opening built up to a passionate climax. She was, I felt, the best exponent of the keyboard that evening.

Neluka Seneviratne brought the evening to a close, with Robert Schumann's Aufschwung Fantasiestucke Op. 12 No. 2, Brahms' Intermezzo in E flat minor Op. 118 No. 6 and Alexander Skryabin's Etude in D sharp minor Op. 8 No. 12. Her rendition of the last piece, referred to as the "Elegie of Sorrow", was a blend of the sensuous and mystic, with an evocation of intense pathos in the final haunting diminuendo.

Those who had the good fortune to be present, were treated to a repertoire of classical music of unusual complexity. However, there is good news for those who missed it.

The Young Professionals will have a repeat performance at the Russian Cultural Centre in Colombo on July 5 at 7.00 p.m. (admission by programme). Music lovers have yet another event to look forward to: the Peradeniya Singers will present their Jubilee Concert at the Lionel Wendt on September 12 and 13, 2003.

- Malinie Samarajiwa


Blossoming of youth 

An exhibition of paintings by artist Kosala Priyam Kumara

by Prasad Abu Bakr

Kosala Priyam Kumara.

With this, his 3rd solo exhibition, which opens at the Lionel Wendt Gallery tomorrow, artist Priyam Kumara is presenting a collection of 25 paintings done with oils and acrylic. Independently and also as mixed media, eight sculptures done with cement will also be on display.

With his present exhibition the artist is making a statement of the many experiences he passed through as a youth. Using colourful flowers in full bloom on various trees the artist has symbolised youth and its many experiences through these trees, the entire idea has taken into many abstract forms through the sculptures that he has produced, instead of using these images to portray his personal experiences.

Kumara wants to share them with his viewers as a part of their experiences as well, making it an event to be shared by everyone. 'Blossoming of Youth' ends on Sunday.


Well deserved award to a premiere artiste

Piyasara Shilpadhipathi

Recently, the President of Sri Lanka, Her Excellency Chandrika Kumaratunga awarded the "Deshiya Narthanadhari Keerthi Sri" award to Kalasoori Piyasara Shilpadhipathi for his service as a dancer/choreographer in Sri Lanka and abroad. For those of us who are abroad, and directly exposed to his ability and talent to work with foreign artistes, this is a well-deserved award that has been given to a premiere artiste in Sri Lanka.

I came to know Piyasara Shilpadhipathi in 1996, when he and his talented daughter toured the USA, and ever since then, I have had a close relationship with him as a sponsor and a student. When I moved to Ottawa, Canada, a few years ago, there was minimum awareness of the Sri Lankan dance forms here.

At that time, Shilpadhipathi was a regular visitor to California, USA and Mr. Gamini Wijesooriya, who passed away a few years ago, promoted his work. Shilpadhipathi was the visiting lecturer for several universities in California, and trained local artistes, and had several cultural presentations every year in the USA. It is one on of those visits in 1999, that I decided to sponsor. Shilpadhipathi to Ottawa, and with the co-sponsorship of Mrs. Laurie Stevens, the Director of the Odyssey Theatre of Ottawa, we conducted a series of workshops for theatre artistes based on the Kolam Theatre connected to the low-country dance form, at the prestigious National Arts Theatre.

All of the participants became enthusiastic and impressed enough to request for more opportunities to study our dance forms in the future. Two years later, the opportunity arose with a funding from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade of Canada, who sponsored the visit of the Piyasara Shilpadhipathi and his student, Prasanna Rupathillake from the Sri Lanka State Dance Troupe.

They became the first dancers to be sponsored by the federal government of Canada, and once again Shilpadhipathi conducted workshops to theatre artistes and drum workshop were so well-received by the participants and his visit and his work among the Canadian artistes was recorded by the TV Ontario and was aired as a segment of 'Studio 2' program. All of the participants admired. Shilpadhipathi and his ability to assess the level of talent and to bring out the skills possessed by the students. Most students expressed a desire to travel to Sri Lanka and further study the art of Kolam theatre and drumming under the guidance of Shilpadhipathi.

He also trained the members of the Sri Lanka Youth Dance Troupe, and we were able to present Shilpadhipathi and Prasanna Rupathillake to the Canadian public in the premiere presentation of "Nirta Ranga", where the Sri Lanka High Commissioner to Canada, Her Excellency Mrs. Geeta de Silva was the Chief Guest, Hon. Mr. Mac Harb MP, was the Guest of Honour and Mr. Peter Stephens, represented the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade of Canada.

I am positive that several Sri Lankans from different countries who have been involved in the promotion of the Sri Lankan culture abroad will unanimously agree that the best representative of our dance forms is Piyasara Shilpadhipathi, for several reasons. His ability to uphold our traditions, yet adapt to a foreign culture, his gentle manner of handling any person or situation, his deep and vast knowledge of our dance forms as well as his skills as a choreographer, dancer and a drummer, the simplicity of his lifestyle, give us a great joy to know and to work with him.

I know his name was given to his forefather by an ancient monarch, who appointed him to safeguard our dance forms. Today, Kalasoori Piyasara Shilpadhipathi has taken that duty one step further, and he has taken our dance forms across the seas to many foreign countries and to the hearts of many foreign people, who will in turn value, and I hope, will nourish our dance forms in the future.

All of us, who truly cherish the vanishing traditions of our ancient and rich culture, associated with our dance forms, are exhilarated and extend our warm and heartfelt congratulations to Deshiya Narthandhari Keerthi Sri Kalasoori Piyasara Shilpadhipathi and his talented wife, Kanthi Shilpadhipathi.

- Rukmal Gunasekara, Canada


Top stars at Fete de la Musique '03

Once again Fete de la Musique (International Music Day) '03, a unique music festival organised by the Alliance Francaise de Colombo, will be held at the modernised air conditioned New Town Hall, Greenpath, (near the Public Library) Colombo 7, on June 28th Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The performances will include all categories of music pop, jazz, reggae, folk, country & western, classical, rock, calypso and baila etc. - a meeting place of cultures and an opportunity to share the joy of listening and appreciating a variety of melodies.

Fete de la Musique 'International Music Day', which started off in 1982, saw amateur and professional musicians of France take to the streets on June 21st to celebrate the summer solstice.

On this day after a dismal spring the whole of France breaks into a gigantic celebration of music song and dance. People head for the squares and parks and perform free of cost for the benefit onlookers and for their own pleasure.

In Sri Lanka the event has grown in popularity amongst the young and old and every year a lot of people participate and many people of all ages come to see this event.

Many popular musicians will perform as guest artistes during the whole day. They will include Dalrene Suby, Sohan Weerasinghe, Ronnie Leitch. Geoffrey Fernando of Purple Rain, the famous band Damage, Saybahn (ex-leader of the ever famous Saybahn & Tempo), Claude Fernando known as king Claude on Organ, Harsha Markalande, Rodney Rabot, Clifford Richards (local; Jim Reeves, baila maestro and the popular compere), Annesley Malewana, Indrani Perera, Dharmaratne Brothers, Priya Pieris, Winslow Six (the all girl group of the '80's), Surendra of Shakthi fame, Chandanie & Chaminda (C & C), Luke Henricus, Lincon de Silva of Super Pink Purple, Anjalie Waidyasekera, Anil Bhareti, Jagath Wickremasinghe, and Asanthi Nalika Dancing Academy, Jayantha Ratnayake, Deepal Silva and many others. The popular Bank 'EBONY' will provide background music.

Many professional comperes will also handle the days proceedings and do not miss this unique music festival and there is going to be lot of enjoyment listening to your favourites songs (old & new) right through out the day.

So flock in to the Air-conditioned New Town Hall at Greenpath Colombo 7 and enjoy a full days music non-stop, sing song and dance Free of Charge.

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