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Tuesday, 21 February 2012

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Dance to connect



International Competition of Choreography Plan for Asian Dance Productions team. Ravibandhu Vidyapathy is also in the picture

The dim lights gradually invaded the stage along with the tranquil music banishing dark corners and silence. The beat blend together into a fusion of tunes and the sound created by rhythmic footsteps that strike against the floor sets off a mysterious passion to the lifeblood of onlookers.

It was not merely tunes and moves belonging to one particular group but a combination of music and dance forms from all parts of the globe. The dancers passionately perform the moves, moving from one item to the other with ease. It is more than just a performance. It is an exchange of dance techniques, cultures and traditions.

Malith Upendra of nATANDA dance troupe has achieved the rare feat of being the only Sri Lankan to take part in the 14th Seoul International Dance Festival (SIDance 2011) that was held in South Korea. Conducted by the Korean local International Dance Council CID-UNESCO, the event was held at Sogang University's Mary Hall, Seoul Arts Center's Jayu Theater and Hoam Art Hall and many other venues in the city from September 29 to October 16.

A six month Cultural Partnership Initiative (CPI) programme sponsored by the Cultural, Sports and Tourism ministries of South Korea was held to bring Asia and Africa's most distinctive dancing techniques on one stage prior to the 18-day grand finale.

"Around 100 participants from Asian countries and Africa took part in the CPI programme. We were under the Asia-Africa dance exchange 2011 category for the festival. We were paired in threes to present dance items for the show. My partners were from Ghana and China," Upendra recalled.

Around 52 dance companies from Korea and 16 other countries from around the world presented 51 works at SIDance 2011. Korea, China, the United States, Germany, Italy and France have been regular participants at the festival but SIDance 2011 introduced troupes from Lebanon, Sri Lanka and Ghana. The Post Ego Dance Company, a contemporary dance company in Korea, also worked with them.

A number of workshops and performances related to dance, choreography and emerging styles were also held to maintain the energetic and festive theme.


Malith and his dance partner from Ghana performing a Kandyan dance item at SIDance 2011

Young dancers in their mid and late 20s represent new creations based on new cultural experience. Living in Seoul for six months, these dancers embody diverse experiences which they integrate with their choreographic knowledge with the information gleaned by taking part in traditional Korean dance workshops, contemporary dance workshops, inter-movement workshops, choreography workshops and many more programmes.

SIDance 2011 is the final test where they get to show their progress by staging new creations influenced by their diverse cultural traditions, contemporary dance techniques and new energy infused by the cultural clash. Upendra and his mates did research on Korean myth and came upon the legend of the bear woman. This was the theme of their dance item which was titled 'Ode to Ungnyeo.'

"Koreans believe that they originated from a female bear. We based the choreography on that story. We question why living things wanted to transform from animals to humans. They undergo happiness, suffering become restless at the end and wish to become animals again to lead a simple life," he elaborated the concept.


Malith in an African contemporary dance move

Queried on what he learned from his partner's dance techniques the 27 year-old said that the dance movements of Ghana include a lot of dynamic qualities.

"I learnt Afro Contemporary dance forms from my partner form Ghana. They have a variety of traditional dance elements. You incorporate contemporary techniques into these forms. It goes mainly with the drum beats. It makes a nice combination," he opined.

He notes that their Chinese partner was more into dance theatre. Though based in China she had been influenced by European dance techniques.

"I taught them how to merge Kandyan dance elements and Angampora into contemporary dance movements," he said adding that both the other dancers found the act so enthralling that they decided to have the piece at the beginning of the 40-minute 'Ode to Ungnyeo'.

"We selected out own costumes which is similar to our day to day wear but the dance starts off with us in less clothes," Upendra recalled.

Upendra is also the principal dancer of Kapila Palihawadana's renowned nATANDA Dance Theatre. The troupe had performed in many foreign countries and had won audience applause.

"The Koren Ministry asked us to apply for the International Competition of Choreography Plan for Asian Dance Productions. nATANDA got selected for their 'Ravens' performance out of 16 countries and 65 choreographies. It was among the five finalists. This is a rare achievement. In future I will be taking part in their programmes of exchanging dance. They have scheduled a main dance production for 2014," he said.

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