Young Royalists take on the challenge of Jekyll and Hyde

By Marisa de Silva
Taking on a challenging dramatic venture, young Royalists will present an adapted version of R.L. Stevenson's classic, 'Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde' from January 31 to February 2 at 7 p.m., at the Lionel Wendt Theatre.

The play is being staged by the Royal College Union (RCU) together with the Old Royalists Association of Dramatists (ORAD) and The Royal College English Drama Society (EGBA).

The 35-strong cast all students, aged 13 to 20, are a talented bunch. Winners of last year's Inter-School Shakespeare Drama Competition for 'Anthony and Cleopatra' and runners-up the previous year (2001), they are brimming with enthusiasm.

Director Thushara Hettihamu, an old boy of RC believes in giving back whatever he can to his alma mater.

He directed both the runners-up and winning cast of 2001 and 2002 at the Shakespeare Drama Competition and was also Production Manager for 'Arsenic and Old Lace' and 'Jungle Book', two earlier productions.

Most recently he was co-writer of the play 'Fill in the Blanks' and was part of the 'Stages' theatre group that performed at the 'Commonwealth Drama Festival' held in Manchester last year.

The story of 'Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde' begins in London in the 1900s, when Dr. Henry Jekyll, attempts to prove wrong a common belief that there's no scientific basis behind human morality.

Unfortunately though, his experiment goes way beyond his expectations and control, manifesting his alter-ego... Mr. Edward Hyde.

The main story whilst revolving around Dr. Jekyll and his split personality, also focuses on society at that time.

The romantic twist occurs when the doctor and his late fiancée's sister Sarah Crawford are discovered by a 'snoopy' reporter in Dr. Jekyll's study one night.

This dark tale of mystery and horror is guaranteed to provide the audience with an action packed evening, full of special effects and daredevil stunts.

The box office will be open from January 21 at the Lionel Wendt Theatre. Media sponsors for the event are MTV, Yes FM and The Sunday Times.

The play is co-sponsored by the Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation.

A lifetime of dance

By Renuka Sadanandan
For many years, ever since Chitrasena and Vajira moved from their famed Colpetty studio 'the school near the sea', they have longed for a permanent place. A place where they could once again nurture the dance they have dedicated their lives to.

But many long years have passed and though President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga granted them a block of land in Narahenpita, Colombo 5, there has been no encouraging response from any quarter to their quest to raise enough funds to make the school a reality.

This year though, as Chitrasena's 82nd birthday on January 26 drew near, the family decided to go ahead. The foundation stone has been laid, even as an exhibition celebrating the work of the country's most famous dancer opens to the public.

Visitors to the exhibition seeing the monumental scale of their international success will no doubt, marvel and perhaps conclude that if ever anyone was worthy of support, they are, for their remarkable contribution to Sri Lankan dance. But will the dance school be a reality in Chitrasena's lifetime? He certainly would like it so. For though the years have slowed his steps and his once vigorous frame is somewhat stooped, his mind is still alert. "It isn't too late, " he says. Even now, he feels he can still contribute in passing on some of the skills that made him a legend in the history of dance in this country.

Every Saturday, he still makes the trip from his tranquil retreat at Mahara to the GFS hall in Green Path where the Chitrasena Kalayathanaya hold their weekly classes. "I am there from 8 a.m. to 12 noon," he says, watching hawk-eyed as youngsters tread the boards before him.

This discipline is hard to break for the man who schooled many dancers, the peerless Vajira, his wife and prima ballerina among them. As a young boy he had insisted that he be allowed to dance despite opposition from his family. His determination prevailed and he learned, for many years, the sacred traditions of Kandyan dance from the great masters such as Kiriganitha Gurunnanse, Muddanawe Appuwa and Lapaya Gurunnanse themselves.

"My father had them all brought to our home," he recollects. He was indeed fortunate, he says that his father Seebert Dias, a thespian of note, well-known for his Shakespearean roles not only had him tutored by the finest in the land but also exposed him to the elements of stagecraft from an early age.

Chitrasena, then Maurice Dias, a youngster of just 15 made his stage debut in 1936 in the dance drama Sri Sangabo directed by his father. "The poster of that show will be on display at the exhibition," he says. This was the first time the story-telling technique was used in dance. He went on to Shanthiniketan and so began his great bond with India, which he still regards his second home. Those unforgettable years were in the early '40s, he reflects, when he danced with the likes of Rabindranath Tagore's grand-daughter Nanditha Kriplani. Then the limbs were at their most supple, the ability ever increasing. "I was flying in the air," he chuckles.

Those were the days when he met inspirational, pioneering dancers like Uday Shankar and Ramgopal. "I learnt a lot from Uday Shankar's theatrecraft," he says adding that it is not only the technique that counts but the ability to use space on stage, choreography, lighting and so much more.

This influence and his own contribution, what he went on to create, is best described in Chitrasena's own writings. "In order that the traditional dance survive, it had to be given a new dimension for its perpetuation and growth and I felt this could only be done in relation to theatre. This meant the traditional dance had to undergo certain transformation for the stage.

"Beginning with Ravana, Vidura, Chandalika, my early ballets were influenced by Indian dance. Each of these was a challenge for I was aware that I was ploughing a new field in the annals of the dance in Sri Lanka. Nala Damayanthi and Karadiya were more mature productions, for with a growing sense of assurance and sensitivity towards my art, I was able to test the possibilities and potential of the medium through the fire of experience....In Nrithanjali I set a precedent in the art of presenting a programme of traditional and folk dance items within the space-time limitations of the stage...

"Kinkini Kolama was the fulfilment of a long cherished dream. I had long awaited this moment to create a ballet inspired solely by the folk traditions of Sri Lanka, a truly Sinhala ballet representative of all that is within our rich cultural heritage."

In the late '50s, '60s, and '70s, the Chitrasena Vajira Dance Company took the world by storm, touring Australia, Russia, London and Sydney, Czechoslavakia and Malaysia and so many other countries to huge acclaim. Those were their glory days as Sri Lanka's cultural ambassadors and the exhibition highlights many of these triumphs with pictures and reviews from all over the world. The Critic in Perth in January 1963, wrote exactly forty years ago, "To the sounds of the multitudinous and omnipresent tongues of the drums of Kandy, the dancers in their elaborate traditional costumes with their sinuous rhythmic gestures and whirling leaps, present a profusion of scenes of colour and excitement with a perfection of technique that does not fear comparison with the best in European ballet". Or how a Swiss critic enthused in St. Gallen Tageszeitung in 1970, "What Chitrasena attempts is a fascinating synthesis of genuine art and genuine folklore. I have never seen this done to such perfection. Vajira revealed the highest technical mastery together with profound religious concentration".
The thrill of performing to foreign audiences is still vivid in Chitrasena's mind. The dates are well-remembered so too the rigours of touring...“spending three months on the German autobahn squeezing in 56 performances". And the responsibility of handling the troupe, keeping them happy even when they were longing for their rice and curry.

Would he like to see the memorabilia on permanent display? "I think the Archives should keep some of these," he replies. “Not only mine but that of other artistes as well, but they are not interested."

With daughter Upeka having done her parents proud with her own dancing prowess, the family tradition is also alive in Chitrasena and Vajira's grand-daughter Heshma, who has studied theatrecraft and business management in the U.S. She, Chitrasena believes, has the potential to see their legacy live on. It will be Upeka and Heshma who will have to knock on doors to find the money to build up the school, he says, state patronage for the arts being sadly lacking.

There have been triumphs and travails both in full measure in his life and it is now time for a more contemplative existence in contrast to his very public youth. Meditation which he learnt under the famous guru Goenka, having attended many of his courses both here and in India with Vajira, figures large, he says. "Normally the mind is a thing that jumps all over..meditation helps you to focus. Just like in dance. Now I take each day as it comes. I don't plan anything.” Old age is a difficult thing, he adds."I don't meet many people now." But ever possessed by his beloved dance, there is a new ballet taking shape in his head and there is all the characteristic fire as he visualizes seeing it on stage soon, with Vajira, Upeka, her dancers and some of his former pupils. It will be based on the Vijaya-Kuveni story ... "I must do it this year, there's no time to postpone things," he says, smiling.


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