The traditional dance must move on: Channa
Channa Wijewardene has carved a niche in the world of dance with his innovative styles, which are a blend of both traditional and modern. He has faced both criticism and applause in his career, he tells Dhananjani Silva
Tell us about your childhood?
When I was a kid I was naughty. I had my primary education in London. From there I joined Carey College and then Isipathana. I was into sports like rugger, basketball and tennis. I was also good at drawing and painting. So much so that whenever I came across a toy or something I used to dismantle it and create something new. Even if it was a shoe, I tried to change its original style by putting a buckle on to it .

How did you start dancing?
My father danced with Chitrasena as a hobby. One day I saw Chitrasena performing on stage and I was inspired.That day I decided to take up dancing.

What is it like performing to a foreign audience? What is the response that you get?
The response is good. We have a quite a big foreign audience. We have been recognized more overseas than in Sri Lanka. As soon as we finish a concert in one country we sometimes get invitations to go to another.

Do you find others copying your outfits or dancing style?
Yes, sometimes! (laughs). Without knowing the purpose behind a particular creation and how it should be done, some people copy our innovations. I would appreciate if they at least called and found out what was the purpose and intention of a particular creation without blindly copying it. And when they do so they fail miserably.

Take Anganavo for example. I was the first to do Anganavo and now others are imitating it. I believe it was my dance item that made the song popular. There was a time when Rukantha Gunathileke used to call me and tell me that he used to get bookings because of my dance item.

How much does your wife Upuli contribute to your innovations?
She gives a lot of constructive criticism. She helps to design the costumes too. She does the shopping, selects the material and knows exactly what I am looking for.

She also doesn’t allow any phone calls to disturb me while I am at work. Sometimes when I start working in the morning I go on till evening without lunch or tea. My dance troupe knows this well. I am grateful to them, because whatever I have achieved is due to them.This is not a one-man show. Our effort can be compared to a painting – there would be nothing if there was no canvas, paint or brush.

How often do you create something new, something different?
I try to be creative in whatever I do. I try to add something new even to something that I have done a couple of years back. The changes may be small but it is always something new.

For example, the human lamp was one of my creations. Rather than having a brass lamp on stage, I made the girls make a formation of a lamp.

What is the best advice you have ever got? And from whom?
It was from my teacher Dr. Chitrasena who passed away a few months ago.
There was a time when I was being criticised by many people for the changes I was making to the traditional dance form. There were critical articles that appeared in the papers and I even received many letters.

Nagarajha costumes were supposed to be very colourful, but I changed them to black. Even the drummers’ costumes were changed as I was designing them in a different way. I was criticised for this. It was then that I went to Chitrasena for advice. He asked me, “When do you get tackled when you are playing a game of rugger.” I replied , “obviously when you have the ball in your hands.” Then he said, “if you don’t want to be criticised throw the ball”. That is when I decided to go on.

What is your motto in life?
When it comes to dancing there is no end. It goes on.

What do you think of Sri Lankan dance?
Since we are internationally recognised we know the value of dancing. We have a rich tradition and we must move on from there. That is why our troupe can compete with the rest of the world.

What is your message to upcoming artistes?
Practise as much as you can. A teacher cannot give you everything. Therefore, at a certain point you have to be your own teacher.

Pradeep to perform at Kennedy Center
Lankan sitar virtuoso Pradeep Ratnayake will perform at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C. on November 7. He along with his Pradeepanjalee ensemble comprising Alston Joachim (bass guitar), Wijeratna Ranatunga (tabla), Lakshman Joseph de Saram (violin) and Karunarathna Bandara (Sri Lankan percussion) will be performing on the Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center.

The concert is organized by the Embassy of Sri Lanka in Washington D.C. in partnership with the Kennedy Center.

This is also the first time in 15 years that a group of talented Sri Lankan artistes perform in the US capital, a sophisticated repertoire of Sri Lankan music that draws from Indian, Sri Lankan and Western traditions.
Pradeep Ratnayake's U.S. premiere was at the Asia Society and Museum in New York in September where he received a standing ovation.

The Asia Society has introduced American audiences to major artistes such as sitar great Ravi Shankar. Pradeep also performed in New Jersey and Montreal, Canada and at the Globe Theatre, Universal Studios in California organized by the Sri Lanka Foundation in Los Angeles.

The Kennedy Center performance could be accessed live over the Internet at at 5:00 a.m. Sri Lankan time.

The funny, the sombre and a memorable evening
Rag-In Concert. Written and directed by Jehan Aloysius.
Reviewed by Olga de Livera

Watching the CentreStage Festival at the Lionel Wendt theatre last weekend was a truly memorable experience. The first half of the evening which began with the comedy `Two in a Pit’, was filled with laughter at the hilarious frolics of two leading actors of the English theatre well played by Ravi (Shehan Nelson) and Jean ( Ruhanie Perera) , who were locked up ‘accidentally’ in the orchestra pit of the Lionel Wendt Theatre. Writer (Jehan Aloysius) cleverly used their unfortunate and comic situation to take a swipe at the lives of actors of the English theatre in general.

In the second half of the programme, the mood shifted from lighthearted comedy to the sombre serious theme of ragging and violence on campuses when` Rag – In Concert’ depicting excerpts from a forthcoming musical production opened in a spectacular fashion. This stunning musical extravaganza of song and dance was undoubtedly the highlight of the evening. The soul-stirring music blended perfectly with the action on stage. The rape of Natasha ( the character excellently and sensitively portrayed by Lakmini Cooray ) highlighted the depravity and insensitivity to which ragging, a once harmless practice of initiating freshers to their new way of life on campus, has now descended- with tragic consequences as in the death of Joe (Jehan Aloysius). Dushyanth Weeraman also gave a sensitive portrayal as the tragic victim of ragging.

Jehan Aloysius, who wrote the excellent script and the original musical score besides choreographing the show and acting as well, should be congratulated for his versatile talent. He has an incredible voice range and a striking, altogether attractive stage presence. He clearly stood out among the rest for his clear, well articulated singing and powerful portrayal of the character of Joe.

Christina Francke who played the role of Sakunthala must also be commended for her excellent performance both as a singer with a remarkable voice, and talented actress who played her role to perfection. Avanthi Perera who was responsible for the skilful performing of the music and orchestration deserves a special word of praise for her wonderful job. Her haunting lament over the dead body of her son ( Jehan) also revealed a singer of exceptional talent and remarkable voice range.

The final scene saw a religious flavour brought out by Joe’s death. His stiff body lifted up with the arms outstretched sideways had a close resemblance to the crucified Christ, while his sorrowing mother cradling him in her arms bore a striking resemblance to the Pieta both in her dress and in her stance.

It was obvious that a great deal of effort, time and dedication, had gone into this performance. One must not forget to mention the cleverly executed lighting effects and the equally superb sound effects. I found the opening score particularly uplifting. The different types of songs and dances featured offered variety and sustained one’s interest in what was happening on stage from beginning to end.

The unusual stage effects symbolizing Joe’s dream of ending violence and division with peace and one-ness, such as the angel of peace hovering over a huge dragon breathing fire and rage (a symbol of campus unrest?) that marches across the stage in the opening scene, were most impressive. Costumes were simple but appropriate and like the music, varied with the mood and emotions of the actors.

All in all, it was a very well put together evening of talent. The young Director has done a great job in bringing together a large cast of amateur actors on stage, many of them probably for the first time, to give a polished performance. We eagerly look forward to seeing the full length production of Rag in the near future.

A canvas of seven Nepali artists
The work of seven talented young Nepali artists is now showcased in ‘Imagine’ an exhibition on at the Finom(e)nal art gallery at Galle Face Court, Colombo till November 28.

Asha Dangol’s semi-abstract works are compact, figurative subdued compositions of nature and society. “My new work, is focused on Mithila-the art and people of the Terai. My colour tones and figures reflect the simplicity of the native forms found in Mithila Art that give my works a new found meditative quality,” says the artist.

Pradeep Bajracharya says his work depicts his fascination with moods of festivals, using multicolours with foggy patches and sweeping black and white and red lines.

Erina Tamrakar’s paintings are based on feminity. “The misery and curiosity of female figures always dominate my canvases. After the birth of my son, my mind naturally delved into the relationship between mother and child and has become more meditative,” she explains.

Binod Pradhan’s work explores the two sided personality, the-external face and internal face. “I am always fascinated with these faces where I want to create the relation between the inner soul and outer soul (face),” he adds.

Bhai Raj Maharjan says his paintings have always revealed his preoccupation with the female form, especially rural Newari women attending to their day-to-day chores. “The women that I have now chosen to paint are young, slender and sensuous. I have captured them in their private and secret moments: sleeping, resting, bathing, oiling their hair and changing. I paint them with their long tresses flowing and unbound, symbolic of my new found freedom of expression.”

Sunila Bajracharya’s work also focuses on women. “My paintings depict the realism of women and the rhythm of their bodies. I render them with definite brushstrokes and bold colours. The features are highly stylized, almost icon-like. The focus has simply been on the juxtaposition of broad planes of colour and strong lines, evidenced by the fine etching and markings on the women’s bodies and other surfaces.”

Pramila Bajracharya explains that to her, Nature itself is a form of beauty and so, she explores her passion and moods through landscapes. “Urban and rural settings always inspire me to create the contrast and vivid colours that provide the tremendous effect of Nepali landscapes,” she says.

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