Channa - Upuli ever in demand
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
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
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,"
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
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,"
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
Some artistes complain that there is lack of support from Government
institutions to stage productions. Wijewardena sees this aspect in a
"They need to show a production to the Government body to seek help
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
* Moving in space
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