Vajira, the legend Chitrasena left behind
Though she can be compared to Odette/Odile of the Swan Lake, Vajira
remains the mythical supreme of Sri Lankan dancing. She is in equal par
with the best of all ballerinas around the world. She still is our own
shining star second to none.
Vajira and late Chitrasena were like a pair of steel scissors,
cutting sharply through the vast arena of Kandyan and low-country dance
in its magnificent aura.
Vajira as the lovely, vulnerable Swan
Princess, Damayanthi in Nala-Damayanthi, the ballet
choreographed by Chitrasena who also danced the lead role as
Like a pair of scissors, both depended on each other for excellence
and now that the scissors have fallen apart, Vajira till holds herself
in defiance of trials she has to face without her immortal mentor and
holds her rightful place in our world of art.
Sri Lanka's prima ballerina, one of the greatest dancers in the world
is our country's national heroine. We all remember her as the dancer of
tremendous power and vitality when she took the centre stage with
Chitrasena. Endowed with a feline quality, Vajira had such stage
personality, it was a joy to watch her and learn so much from her. Her
triumphs are so over-bearing, its smell of success still linger on her
precious art even after three generations. I still visualise her as
Odette/Odile of Swan Lake when she danced Damayanthi in the ballet Nala
Damayanthi, choreographed by Chitrasena who also danced the title role
with her. I too had the priveledge to dance with them as a swan, after
which I moved over to Western classical ballet.
Vajira had the great ability to sink her own personality into any
character she danced that made all her ballets come alive. Her supple
back and long eloquent arms played a major role in perfecting her dance.
Sharp, oriental features and black tresses made her wholesome. Vajira
lacked nothing as she went from one triumph to the other leaving
With all her super-power, energy, great leaps she never losy the
feminine aura. Always radiant and passionate about her dancing, she
still keeps up the tempo even after turning seventy seven years of age.
The winsome smile has never changed nor the sparkle in her eyes. She has
retained her own identity and never faulted in her career even after
Chitrasena bid her goodbye.
'The form, the form alone is eloquent
A nobler yearning never broke her rest
Than but to dance and sing, be gaily drest
And win all eyes with all accomplishment....
- Alfred Lord Tennyson
Her country's traditional dance is what is foremost in her mind and
she guards it with it with passion and fire never letting the form
pollute it from outside influence however tempting it could. She has
danced her history etching in every mind the glories of Sri Lankan
As with most Asian dancing, there is a strong religious element and
Kandyan dance is no exception though not particularly performed in
temples but at temple ceremonies and perahera. Unlike in the low country
dance, a special feature in Kandyan dance is the elaborate costume both
for men and women along with bejewelled head dresses. Exacting physical
demands are needed and it came naturally to Vajira which she passed down
to her equally talented daughter, Upekha.
'Some glory in their birth; some in their skill
Some in their wealth; some in their body's force'....
- Sonnet XCI (Shakespeare)
Vajira did not stop at dancing but became the great teacher at her
The Chitrasena-Vajira Dance Foundation as it is know today, and
continued to choreograph the ballets boarded there. Like at the Royal
Ballet in London, this dance centre is brimming with future talent and
today's dancers who keep the torch burning in loving memory of their
great Master, Chitrasena. In this manner, it is a tribute they shower
upon her for her dedication, commitment and grit. The open air theatre
is like Mount Olympus with its Muse who tread upon it daily with her
twinkling feet what never rests. Such is Vajira's passion for her
beloved art that took her through a long journey not on our soil alone
but in other countries too.
I will always remember my teacher of her great performance in
Nala-Damayanthi and Karadiya where classicism was at its peak. While she
took upon herself the development of Sri Lanka's traditional culture,
the mantle of which Chitrasena passed on to her, this great teacher has
upheld its immortality and gained momentum with passing of years. Vajira
still imparts her poetic precision to all her students and her own
generations of dancers.
The breath-taking energy Vajira possessed both in mind and body can
never be parallel to any local dancer. On stage, she had the hypnotic
effect on the audience, that still trails in her stride and the aura
intoxicate and bring memories back in flashing arabesque visions. That
is the magic of this great Muse of dance.