Entertaining, pleasing to the eye and high quality dancing

Dance Sri Lanka - Natmo 2010 at the Lionel Wendt Theatre on May 6
By Charmaine Vanderkoen Mendis

"Respect the Past, herald the Future, but concentrate on the Present" - the philosophy of Dame Ninette Valois.

Niloufer Pieris, in introducing "Natmo 2010", a performance by Rivega Dance Studio, headed by twin brothers Rangika and Rangana, gave us this little insight into the mind of Dame Ninette Valois. Dame Ninette, was a legendary, classical ballet dancer and teacher, who made a great contribution to British ballet. Niloufer, who had the good fortune to learn ballet under Dame Ninette, said that she always maintained that dancing needed dedication, devotion and discipline.

Rangika: Is there a future for dancers of his calibre?

While watching the performance of Rivega Dance Studio, that Thursday, these words of Dame Ninette kept coming back to me, because I felt that Rangika, who choreographed, directed and was wholly responsible for this excellent show seemed to have been influenced by her philosophy.

There was respect for the past in that all the dances were based on either the Kandyan or Low Country dance traditions. In heralding the future, there was a wealth of innovation in the choreography, costumes and movements, while focusing very much on the present, always remembering they were performing to a modern audience, seated in the confines of a theatre, rather than playing to the casual open air atmosphere of a village.

Twelve, very interesting items went on the boards. Fittingly, the curtain opened with all the students paying obeisance to their Guru Rangika, followed by Rangika himself in Ves costume, performing a powerful solo from the Kandyan tradition. In contrast, "BulathPadaya" from the "KohombaKankariya", by six senior female dancers, was a graceful foil in the Bhakthi mood. Most of the other items were either traditional folk dances, or were based on ritual dances. However they were all given that extra touch of class, that brought them out of the paddy field to a modern stage.

The most innovative item was Polkatu. The programme note mentions that Rangika wanted to create an item from an export product of Sri Lanka, using parts of the coconut tree as props. The dances were interestingly choreographed around cadjan, coconut shells, coconut flowers and a maypole with coir rope streamers. Additional embelishment came from the descriptive lyrics of Sanjaya.

Of the two items performed exclusively by the male dancers, Senpathiyo was outstanding, while Raksha, a familiar low country ritual was given a new feel with dramatic lighting.

Overall, Natmo 2010 was successful, in that it was entertaining, pleasing to the eye, with the dancing of high quality. Rangika's meticulous attention to detail, did not go unnoticed. It was perhaps the key to the success of the production. Whether it was the precision of the dancers on stage, well thought out lighting cues, perfectly tailored, colour balanced costumes, or split second item changes, it was all there. The lyrics, for most of the items, had also been specially composed by Sanjaya, while the music never strayed far from the traditional melodies.

I could not help wondering, as to how many people in the audience really appreciated the value of Rangika's work and the effort he obviously put into it. Judging by audience appreciation, the clapping was drowned most times, by ear piercing whistles which, one normally associates with street mobs.
This really spoilt the evening for me, and what irked me more, was that it was totally disrespectful of the dancers, and so disturbing to the mood they were trying to create. The only item that merited this treatment was the last one, which was typical of the fare we are treated to on television and at various sponsored events - the usual hip shaking, sinuous, mish mash of movements, spiced up with steps from Bhangra, Kandyan, Kathakali and woefully, classical Bharathanatya, that passes up for modern Sri Lankan dancing.

Rangika, does not need to go down that road, not even to keep body and soul together. I would like to think, that that was not his intention, but just an experiment that did not work. The vision and talent he has, must be treasured and developed, which is why it is so important, that those in charge of our cultural affairs must be able to sift the gold from the dross. It is dancers and producers like Rangika who must get sponsorship from the State and the Private Sector. This performance, Natmo 2010 is worthy of a wider, more discerning audience, and my wish is that, either the State, or some enlightened entrepreneur will give Rangika the opportunity to take this show abroad, and also ensure that more of our citizens can see and appreciate his work.

So far, Rangika has had the good fortune to be sponsored by The Nelung Arts Centre. Niloufer Pieris, Founder/Director, saw the potential in him when he, as a trained Kandyan dancer, came to her to study Classical Ballet, and decided to give him the support that he needed.

What happens to dancers like him? What future does he have, and what future do serious dancers of his calibre have in our country?

The question needs an answer from all of us.

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