16th July 2000

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Stefan Milenkovich and Rohan de Silva back again

A rare turn of events brings two internationally renowned concert performers back to Colombo at the end of July, for two concerts that would prove of value to lovers of classical music.

A year since their last sell-out concert in Colombo, violinist Stefan Milenkovich and pianist Rohan de Silva are to collaborate again, at the Lionel Wendt Theatre, in a presentation by the Sunethra Bandaranaike Trust and the Sunera Foundation, on July 31 and August 1.

The two concerts will be separate programmes, featuring a variety of works by different composers.

Sri Lanka born Rohan de Silva is the collaborator of choice for a whole galaxy of reputed concert violinists and this current season, sees him travelling the globe with maestro Itzhak Perlman. He has had a recording contract with Sony Classical, where he received acclaim, playing piano with Japanese born violin virtuoso Midori.

Milenkovich won the hearts of Sri Lankans last year not only for his shimmering technique and bravura style, but also for the controlled bowing and warm sonority of his violin.

Since his teens and especially since his debut at the 'Young Concert Artists' program in America, this Belgrade-born virtuoso has stacked up a heap of rave reviews and also a few recording contracts along the way. What singles him out, in the midst of hundreds of other excellent performers, is his meticulous attention to detail and pursuit of perfection. His playing of Paganini works for solo violin never fails to excite.

The proceeds from the sale of tickets will be for ongoing work in helping the disabled in Sri Lanka.

The tickets ranging from Rs. 100 to Rs. 750 are available at the Lionel Wendt theatre.

Two Times Two is what?

So what if we were stripped of the licence to conceal our thoughts? If we were denied the luxury of tempering or even altering our actual feelings before making them public? Would the consequences be funny? Tragic? Ridiculous? Or simply the perfect formula for a drama?

Think about it... the side to ourselves we hide from the world (what we don't, won't or can't say) is so different from the side we show the world, that each of us could easily be two people.

And this is just what Ruwanthie de Chickera does with her new play "Two Times Two is Two" presented by the British Council. Separating the visible person from the invisible person in her characters, she explores the tremendous dramatic possibilities that lie between this discrepancy.

Two men-strangers-meet at a street corner, and spend half an hour in almost complete inaction-but with their thoughts racing. Who are they? And why are they there? Only the audience knows.

"Two Times Two is Two" was shortlisted for the World Student Drama Trust Award in the International Student Playscript Competition, London in 1998. Ruwanthie's first play "Middle of Silence", which won the British Council International New Playwriting Award for South Asia in 1997, was staged first by the Royal Court Theatre in the West End. Later it was produced in Sri Lanka by the Workshop Players and most recently in Bangalore by The Artists Repertory Theatre, India.

The cast of "Two Times Two is Two" comprises Delon Weerasinghe, Prasad Pereira, Ravin Fernando and Gihan de Chickera and the play is directed by Ruwanthie herself.

"Two Times Two is Two" will be staged at the British Council hall from July 28 to August 1 at 7.30 p.m. Tickets are available at the British Council Cultural Affairs office.

The print media sponsor for the play is The Sunday Times

Welsh language is my world

By Alfreda de Silva

Menna Elfyn, the distinguished bilingual Welsh poet was a participant in Towards the 21st century: Cross Cultural Identities in Contemporary Sri Lankan and British Writing held at the British Council Welsh language is my worldrecently.

The conference was organised by the British Council, Sri Lanka, with the assistance of Neluka Silva, Rajiva Wijesinha and Ranmali Mirchandani in association with the Literature Department, British Council, London.

Menna's books include the bilingual Eucalyptus - Selected Poems 1978-1994 and Cell Angel 1996. One of her translators, Tony Conran, has hailed her as 'the first Welsh poet in fifteen hundred years to make a serious attempt to have her work known outside Wales'.

As an observer it was a pleasure for me to meet Menna at this conference. Initially, dropping in on one of her workshops for a small group of youthful aspiring poets, I was impressed by the way in which she met them halfway, in answering their questions, and the liveliness she generated in motivating comment and ideas for poems.

Talking to her afterwards, I gleaned some very interesting facts about her career. Late in the sixties she discovered The Pengiun Book of Welsh Verse edited by Tony Conran and came to the exciting realisation that there was a history of the literature of Wales, of which she had been ignorant, although her mother tongue was Welsh.

She had no experience of Welsh poetry. Her whole education was so based in English that she had read Auden and Frost before she first confronted the work of the Welsh poets in their native tongue.

An incident that stirred her to action was the fact that a poem she wrote in English intrigued her teacher who refused to believe that Menna had written it.

"I never wrote a poem in English after that," was her startling declaration.

She had read so avidly of Dylan Thomas (one of her favourite Welsh poets who wrote in English) and Yeats and Pound that she felt her poetry did not display her own true voice.

Her advice to all new poets is to re-think and re-work ideas and poetic patterns in order to find their own voices.

As someone who had her education in the fifties in Wales, Menna's entire schooling had been in English.

This does not seem so very different from the education students in this country received in the British-founded schools in the twenties, thirties and forties.

English was the medium of instruction. The poetry of the native tongues may have been touched upon casually in a single daily period of that language, if at all. It has been pointed out that there are notable similarities between the lilting inflexions, speech tunes and rhythms of Sinhala and Welsh.

The poetry of both these languages is meant for the ear as a sort of chant. It is not merely for the eye on a page, if its true beauty is to be evaluated and savoured.

After a first volume of verse, which Menna describes as "a very self-conscious attempt to conform to the conventions of the time", an incident in her life changed the whole texture of her voice when she spent a few days in hospital losing a baby.

Re-born out of unbearable pain, her voice and poems never wanted to go back to the old features. She suddenly began to realise that the loss of a child through miscarriage had not been written about before the seventies. It was a clear indication that a woman's intimate loss was not a major concern of the bards - those to whom she had earlier referred when she mentioned that at the time she began to write poetry seemed to belong to 'a sort of male club '.

She also realised that she was considered a 'feminist poet'. She claims that being 'outside history' gave her "the freedom to explore and challenge unchartered waters of the muse." She declares, "I believe that my commitment to writing in the Welsh language is the necessity at the end of the millenium." Her books Eucalyptus and Cell Angel have established her as a major poet.

Menna feels that thinking and acting globally should not deter the writer from expressing himself in the language of his community and nation.

"English," she affirms, "has enabled me to travel the world and be understood, but the Welsh language is my world."

When Menna found her own voice she also found both real and imaginary landscapes of great daring expressed in an equally daring exuberance of original forms and language.

When she is not travelling around the world for readings, television work and theatre productions, she lives in Llandysul in Wales. She is currently "editing a major anthology of 20th century Welsh poetry. Her Welsh originals in this have facing English translations by Joseph Clancy, Tony Conran, Nigel Jenkins and Elin ap Hywel.

Menna is hopeful that more and more translations will stretch the boundaries of post-colonial attitudes towards language and literature.

Parallel Welsh and English texts offer the work of this poet, one of Wales' foremost writers to a very wide public.

She won the National Eisteddfod Wrexham in 1977 for her collection of poetry, and the Welsh Arts Council Bursary in 1981.

Here are excerpts from Menna Elfyn's Valleys of Tears (with a certain young Bosnian in mind) translated from Welsh by Nigel Jenkins:

...Flat on his back the night
Unquietly tosses and turns, and I
close my eyes
to the demons that prowl the darkness
undressing sleep...
leading me to the vales of tears
where a boy lies trapped
and pale in his bed
two palms of ice binding his eyes
his dark the dark of emptied caves
A second more and I reach for the light
but a darkness unwise and unprovoked
turns the times
into gun,
into ugly and outlaw,
into dream creature,
into reddened eyes,
into crossed eyes,
into a bristling one-eyed legion.

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