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Channa - Upuli ever in demand

The Thala
2008 team

He not only changes the face of dance but also took local dance traditions to the international sphere. With more then 30 years of experience in the field and an abundance of creativity and talent, the Channa - Upuli combination had never failed to delight and astonish audiences from all walks of life. With the Thala series which goes on boards after a lapse of two years, the team is able to prove their mettle with a unique dance performance which leaves the audience gasping in their seats in wonderment.

"What sets them apart is the hard work and improvisation. Everyone likes to have changes in their life and I make sure that each of the productions varies from each other. The audience catches on and they note a difference and improvement in the art. I base all my creations on movements. It is a spiritual form of dance and a lot of people are attracted to this aspect," renowned dancer and choreographer Channa Wijewardena spelt the key to the Channa - Upuli Performing Arts Foundation's success.

The group had indeed been a jewel in the crown in the country's dance scene for they have set Sri Lanka on the map of the international dance arena. The group had already had invitations and performed overseas in countries like England, France, Spain, Germany, Belgium, India, Pakistan, Korea, Indonesia, Nepal, Singapore, Bangkok, Hong Kong, China, Japan and any more. Around 50 of their dancers are scheduled to take part in a performance in Japan while eight will be setting off to Russia.

Channa. Picture by Ruwan de Silva

On performing to different sets of audience he said, "The show in Japan will be entirely different to the one we perform in New York. The living style and the cultural backdrop of the countries differ. Even some aspects differ from area to area." "When you do something new you get a lot of invitations to perform locally and internationally. A lot of dancers like to venture into novel creations so that may be the reason why the name is growing fast. We do have a lot of offers abroad. I engage in a Thala production after a two or three-year stint I move onto the next set. During this break the dancers perform only the items linked with the Thala production and when the next Thala series comes up, the audience witnesses dance performances which had not been performed before. It is an entirely new experience for them," Wijewardena elaborated.

The Channa-Upuli combination on stage

The team staged their last Thala series last year. The audience was treated to a series of exclusive dance items including a beautifully composed dance to Nimal Mendis' melody Nim Him originally sung by Pandit W.D. Amaradeva.

The troupe does not compose of dancers alone. Percussionists too play a vital role in the team's creations. Nuwan Weerasekara, Jananath Warakagoda and Sagara Lakmal de Mel are also part of the group who help to enhance the beauty of the performance.

"I give the expression to the music director. If the tunes are more towards folklore it is usually Jananath who leads the music. If it has to do with classical music, Nuwan fine tunes the melody with the violin. I started off with Diliup Gabadamudali. Together we were able to make a significant impact in the dance and music scene as our music blended well together. That was the point of take off. I even worked with thespians like Master Premasiri Khemadasa and Rohana Weerasinghe.


What he had gained out of Western dance is discipline. He says that our dance forms are not suited for the stage.

"However when you bring them onto the stage the eye point of view differs. On stage, aspects like sound equalization varies so that the whole production has to be tuned in a different way. There are a few small changes we do to the production but we always make sure that the tradition is preserved. It is essential to give a correct view and therefore we have to change certain stances," he explained.

Channa in a traditional Kandyan dance pose

Traditional dance with a unique touch

According to Wijewardena the public gained as well as lost a lot of features with the arrival of technology. Burning cardio, engaging in stretching exercises, balancing and rib technology.

"The whole map of your system is in your foot and these are tapped by dancing. It is a medical fact linked with the art of dance," he mused adding that today the public has to pay daily visits to the gymnasium," he noted.

Speaking on the contemporary situation of dance in the country Wijewardena said that programs like Rangabhisheka conducted by Rupavahini spotlights on the emerging dance traditions of the country. "The only thing they lack is posture and I'll be conducting workshops to train them. You need to work on the subject to be among the best. Virtuosos of dance like Panibaratha brought one of the most famous dance traditions in India, the Manipuri dance and applied it to Sri Lankan dance. It encompasses of very feminine dance movements. Tracing the steps of his journey to fame and fortune, Wijewardena said that it is his wife Upuli Panibaratha who brought out the best in him. He is a strong believer in the fact that it takes two to make a successful calibration.

Some artistes complain that there is lack of support from Government institutions to stage productions. Wijewardena sees this aspect in a different light.

"They need to show a production to the Government body to seek help from them.

If you embody the true essence of talent then it is oblivious that you would be able to catch some person's eye. They should feel the need to fund the show. Karadiya is a good example that we do not need to elaborate on costumes to put up a performance," he concluded.


Eight elements in dance

* Centring
* Gravity
* Balance
* Posture
* Gesture
* Rhythm
* Moving in space
* Breathing

All these have to be perfected by the dancer before getting on the stage for a public performance. A lot of people do not teach these facts but go head on into the techniques. There is a reason for every gesture and position. You need to explain to them why you need to bend or keep your posture straight. There is an answer for everything when a good performance is put up on stage.

Dancing is like reading a book. You get peak points in a when you read a sentence. If there are no phrases you wouldn't read the next sentence. If you do not read the next sentence, you wouldn't complete the book. The same goes for dancing.

The beauty of our dance lies in the fact that every movement denotes a message. A lot of work goes into the construction but at the end of the day you feel happy as you are satisfied with your work.


According to Channa

What makes a good dancer is ...

"The thoughts, spiritual power and involvement are essential ingredients for a successful dancer. Firstly you should enjoy what you are taking up and you should admire the art form. Respect and honour towards the seniors are also essential and in proceeding in the field as you need their guidance and advice to better yourself.

Every one of these details counts to emerge as a top dancer in contemporary society."



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