Let our dance and music live on
By Niloufer Pieris
Against a rather depressing landscape of endless bickering and violence our local artistes continue to be beacons of light. Nrithanjali- Dances of Drums of Sri Lanka presented by the Chitrasena - Vajira Dance Foundation in December was inspiring and dynamic.

Arranging any performance is a logistic nightmare and a constant battle to get performers to attend classes and rehearsals together. Over the years I have watched with sympathy the struggles Chitrasena and his family have experienced in rented spaces. This particular performance was to raise funds for their proposed centre-cum-theatre.

The evening coincided with Bollywood star Shahrukh Khan and his co-stars performing a short distance away. The violence at that event can only make us hang our heads in shame.

Nrithanjali, beautifully presented with excellent dancing and drumming did us proud as did the tasteful costumes highlighted by subtle lighting and chants from the Kohomba Kankariya, masks, kolam and a stick dance all contributing to a dramatic performance. It was a pleasure to see the meticulous training/schooling achieved over years of excellent teaching.

Precise footwork was counter balanced by elegantly controlled arms especially in Gajaga Vannama (the majestic elephant) and the boys’ warrior dance. Upeka, Anjali and Janaki danced with great style. It is vital the younger generation experience these mature artistes.

Music and dance have always played an important part in human development connecting us to the divine and the eternal continuity of life. However alluring foreign imports may be we should not forget our own traditions; copying T.V. videos are not creative.

If the public can pay Rs. 10,000, 5000, 2500 and Rs. 1500 we can also afford to support Chitrasena to establish his own centre. Unfortunately Sri Lankans have difficulty getting together for a common cause, hence our domination by foreigners. Has much changed?

Chitrasena and his company have represented Sri Lanka far and wide and have won international recognition. Chitrasena celebrates his 84th b'day this month. Contributing to their centre would be a mark of respect from us all which he so richly deserves. He has served the cause of dance for more than 60 years.

Mamma mia, what a show!
By Ruhanie Perera
A young girl on the brink of marriage thinks about something that has been at the back of her mind for years... Who is her father? "I have a dream, a song to sing." She has three options - and thus, she invites three men from her mother's past to her wedding. "Honey, Honey, How He Thrills Me, Aha!" She wants to know who he is. "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! A Man..." And where she stands. "What's The Name Of The Game?" Now all she has to do is, tell her mother... "MAMMA MIA!"

Ooh, those ABBA tunes! And there I was experiencing them first hand as I sat back in my comfy seat at Singapore's world class performing arts centre Esplanade - Theatre on the Bay where theatre, art and music meet, as the ABBA songs that inspired the story filled the theatre and the story that re-energized the songs, Mamma Mia, took the stage.

Mamma Mia, the British musical based on the songs of legendary Swedish pop-group ABBA, which opened on March 23, 1999 to London audiences has today become a world-wide success gaining rave reviews, and performing to sell-out audiences. Since then it has gone on to become the world's number one show, with more productions playing simultaneously around the world than any other musical. And there, in Singapore, the Australasian Touring Company were treating Singaporean audiences to that oh so, infectious musical.

And infectious it was. In fact that was the keyword that worked in producer Judy Cramer's mind when she was tossing up the idea of writing an original musical integrating the existing ABBA songs. Here was a classic case where the songs came first- and were met by the creative Cramer mind that recognised the theatrical potential in the songs. And yet, for her, Mamma Mia had to be more than just a compilation of ABBA songs or even a tribute... the storyline had to be as "infectious" as the music - and had to have that "feel-good" factor that comes to anyone caught humming an ABBA tune.

To conceptualise a story through the songs, writer Catherine Johnson was called on and she writes in her 'secret' diary on January 3, 1997:

"Call from Bash (my beloved agent). Would I like to write the ABBA musical? ABBA!!!! They've got to be the most successful pop group ever - certainly the most enduring - 350 million record sales worldwide, 9 U.K. number ones, still in the charts twenty years on and Dancing Queen still filling dance floors. Lift jaw from floor and say, "Yes!" Ring the producer, Judy Craymer, whose brain-child this is. It's NOT the ABBA story but a new musical based around the songs: "Contemporary, ironic, comedy-romance," she says. I make notes."

Set on a tiny, tucked-away, mythical Greek island, the storyline interweaves 22 of ABBA's songs, including favourites such as "Money, Money, Money", "Dancing Queen", "Super Trouper" and "Mamma Mia" into a funny story of a single mother, Donna, who remembers carefree days and careless nights of the 'Dynamo' times and her soon-to-be wed daughter, Sophie, who dreams of traditions and a big white wedding. It's a story that, as it spans the evolving ABBA career, brings together two generations of women and their perceptions of relationships, within a whole gamut of hysterical, absurd, touching and very, very delightfully complex human relationships. And the musical was explosive, as Johnson notes in her last Mamma Mia diary entry on the eve of Valentine's Day 2003...

"I thought there'd be no more excitement after Broadway, but was I wrong! Tony Nominations in 2002 and then two new MAMMA MIA!s - both in translation. We opened in Hamburg, in November 2002 and Tokyo in December. Amazing to hear the songs and story in other languages, lucky I know the show so well, else I wouldn't understand a word.

And now I'm fishing out my glad-rags again, 'cos we're heading for the Entertainment Capital of the World - Viva Las Vegas! First night at the Mandalay Bay is tonight, so that practically counts as a Valentine's present; how lovely to share it with all my favourite people - the MAMMA MIA! creative team and the wonderful Las Vegas cast. That's an unbelievable nine productions worldwide and (fingers crossed) more to come?"

With its beginnings in the April 6, 1974, ABBA win at the Eurovision Song Contest with "Waterloo", a ball of adrenaline pumping energy was created which today bounces back and forth between storyline and song, and actor and audience. In a touching story of heartbreak, happy-endings and ordinary human beings, ABBA comes alive.

And the dazzling 70s costumes, the glitter, the sequins, the hippy, casual Mediterranean blue hues that seem to find their way into set and costumes, set up another world where you just want to jump out of your seat and shake a leg to the beat. And then, bonus of bonuses, in the finale the audience is invited to do just that as the chorus belts out "Waterloo". Excuse me, I have some memories to relive! Anything left to say? Well maybe just..."Thank You For The Music!"

A Brechtian touch and local flavour to a Christmas story
The Joseph Vaz Children's Home, Nainamadama presents 'The Pearl of Great Price', a musical by Haig Karunaratne, co-directed by Rev. Sr. Benette A.C. at The Lionel Wendt Theatre on Sunday, January 16 at 6 p.m. The musical is based on the birth of Christ and the shepherds who came to witness the nativity.

"The shepherds keep watch over their flocks by night. They protest about their difficult life which contrasts with the life of the rich in Bethlehem who are snug in bed. A man Mak requests that he be given a place by the fire because he has lost his way. Just when the shepherds are about to chase him away, suspecting that he is a sheep thief, Gabrielle and his angels come their way leading Mary and Joseph who are searching for the Inn in Bethlehem. When the Innkeeper refuses Mary and Joseph a room in the Inn, the shepherds give their stable which is cleaned by the angels before the travellers enter it.

The scene shifts to the site of a pyramid being built in the presence of the Pharaoh of Egypt. Two wise men from Sri Lanka and China with whom he shares a common interest astronomy, meet him because he had contacted them about a giant star which told them about the birth of a King of Kings. Pharoah is persuaded to follow the star by the two wise men who also succeed in granting both his and their slaves' freedom........."

Commenting on the musical Haig Karunaratne says, “The music is drawn mostly from my compositions for Brecht's three great plays- 'The Caucasian Chalk Circle', 'Mother Courage' and 'Galileo'.

“There are also fragments of music taken from the other operattas I've composed-'Rainbow Man', 'The Pearl and the Swine herd', 'Christmas Opera', and 'East Side Story'. My Sinhala and Tamil compositions 'Thuthimal and Rajavin' inspired the late Jayanatha Premachandra and Mrs. Thurairatnam respectively to write the words.

“The words of this musical reflect Brechtian influences particularly because I have seen close parallels between some of his great characters like Grusha, Mother Courage and characters in my play."

"The play within a play inspired by the storyline of The Second Shepherd's Play (from the Wakefield Cycle) was written by me in an attempt to give the shepherds at least one individualized character in depth. " He adds, "When we fixed January 16 for our performance at the Lionel Wendt the tsunami had not yet struck.”

What better gesture than the children of the Joseph Vaz Home extending a hand to their brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka whose predicament they understand so well.

Opening doors to new sounds
By Priyanwada Ranawaka
Three internationally reputed artistes pooled their creative talents to provide the audience a feast of music and improvisation at the 'Innovative Music Meeting', concert held on December 22 at the Galle Face Hotel.

Renowned cellist Rohan de Saram, the Berlin-based experimental composer Rajesh Mehta and famous drummer Piyasara Shilpadhipathi had dubbed this project, as a "purely improvisational session". "The concert opens doors to new possibilities in creative music," said the three artistes at an interview a few hours before the performance.

Bringing together the sounds of the cello, trumpet and oriental drums, they integrated contemporary and Carnatic music. "This project was aimed at broadening the avenues in joining together different musical traditions and experiences to generate new musical forms, and ultimately to create new musical languages," Rohan de Saram said.

Born in Sheffield of Sri Lankan parents, Rohan de Saram has as a soloist played throughout Asia, Australia, and the Soviet Union with world-renowned orchestras. He has also worked with famous composers researching and experimenting with music.

Born in Calcutta and raised in the US Rajesh Mehta has been active as a professional musician in Europe since 1991. Experimenting with the music of different cultures, he says "innovative music has a much more broader basis than fusion." As a composer his latest project "Sounding Buildings" combines music and architecture.

Rohan and Mehta have been collaborating on stage over the past six years. Mehta's first acquaintance with Piyasara Shilpadhipathi was on stage when they performed for a workshop a few days before the concert. " We communicated through music," said Kalasoori Shilpadhipathi.

Senior lecturer in the Department of Aesthetic Studies of the University of Kelaniya, Piyasara Shilpadhipathi spoke of the fulfilment in working with artists of such calibre to create something new. According to de Saram, this will kick-start a continuing project aimed at demonstrating deeper strategies for dealing with innovative aspects of traditional music.

Highlighting the importance of thorough research into traditional music in and around the country, he spoke of the need for a music research centre that would facilitate musicians getting together and studying music in depth. The consulate of Belgium in Sri Lanka sponsored the event.

Veer-Zaara : Thought-provoking on themes of love and hope
By Sirohmi Gunesekera
Come with me into a world where a man and a woman spend a lifetime living upto each other's dreams even if it means that they are parted without hope for 22 long years. Come with me into a world where old and young men and women live by a code of honour to their family and to their country. Come with me into a world where elders and youngsters in different countries share the same values of respect and caring. Come with me into a world where there is hope for the future of mankind because there are those who are willing to give up or fight for their principles and ideals even if it means breaking out of the comfortable everyday world of looking after and satisfying oneself.

A film can be just a couple of hours' light entertainment or it can be a story across a broad canvas where big and little people can be inspired to lead a more meaningful existence. "Veer-Zaara" operates powerfully at several different levels and it has special meaning for us in Sri Lanka for we share the same culture spanning an old feudal world and the modern.

A girl from a rich and powerful family who takes a bus ride from Pakistan to India to fulfill the dying wish of the servant who brought her up is just the beginning. Then comes an Indian officer who risks his life on a daily basis for the little people caught in accidents in the mountains. Include a father who is a politician and has to fulfill his family's commitment to serving his country.

Unlike the old Hindi formula films, in this film, all the characters are humanized and they represent ideals that you and I can aspire to and live by. Shahrukh Khan in prison still had the compassion to help other prisoners.

It is not given to all of us to be blessed with the kind of love that transcends self. Still more rare is the great love that one man can inspire in a woman and for the woman too to respond with the same fullness of love and sacrifice. The hero in the film humbly asks the heroine for a day to build memories to keep him contented over a lifetime. When her mother appealed to him to save the life of her husband by giving up the love of his life, he respected her wishes.

In today's greedy world where practically everyone wants everything and feels justified in taking it out on everyone if he or she is thwarted, this film carries a powerful message of being satisfied and grateful for the little that the gods offer both the great and the small.

The India that was divided into two countries but whose people share a common heritage is the setting for this film, which is more than just a love story.

Although the Hindi film "Devdas" was much advertised, this film is far more inspiring and rich in themes and can be considered a modern equivalent of the Hindi film "Asoka". There is much to provoke thought and the rich man in his mansion and the poor man in the bus can all identify with the different strains as the story unfolds.

A good film can take you out of your humdrum existence and create another dimension for you to live by and it need not matter whether the film comes from the East or the West.

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