From Vajira to Upeka to Thaji…three generations of dancers follow in the footsteps of the great Chitrasena.
It rained cats and dogs on Saturday, 9th February 2013 but the audience braved the inclement weather and showed up for “Ridmaranga” at the Kularatne Hall of Ananda College, for they knew that a spectacle by the “Chitrasena School of Dance” was worth the effort. The show definitely lived up to the expectations with Thaji, the legendary Vajira’s grand-daughter, dancing her way into the hearts of the audience!
Vajira was Ceylon’s prima ballerina and a trailblazer at a time when Kandyan dancing was an all-male domain. Coached by Chitrasena, she was a dancer as well as a choreographer and she responded to the drumbeat.
The show began with a traditional “Saraswathie Pooja”, a dance invocation to Goddess Saraswathie choreographed for Upeka as the opening act at the “Sarasavi Film Festival” in 1991. It was also the first time that the Chitrasena Dance Company collaborated with Tamil artists(Karnatic Musicians of Sri Lanka). Thaji as the lead dancer was both graceful and poised, a dancer who has come into her own as a professional and international star.
Next came the traditional drum rhythms of the Kandyan dance as performed skillfully by drummers Susantha, Prasanna, Udaya and Priyanga. The audience was enraptured as they clapped to the beat.
This item was followed by “Nritha Tharanga” extracted from the Low Country dance ritual and performed by Mithilani who obviously enjoyed her dancing.
Vajira’s skill in choreographing was evident in the excerpt from the ballet “Nala Damayanthi” where she also danced as the Lead Swan. I remember Upeka gracefully moving her arms to the rhythm when she followed in her mother’s footsteps and danced as the Swan. This time it was Thaji’s turn to do justice to the role.
After the interval, Geeth danced as God Sakra, partnered by Ruwini as Prabha, in an excerpt from the ballet “Berahanda” with graceful horses coming to take the God away much to the sorrow of the earth maiden Prabha who treasures the necklace he gave her as a love token!
Thaji then danced “Ridmaranga”, an excerpt of pure movement from the Kandyan Dance ritual which was choreographed for Thaji’s aunt Upeka in 1984.
This item was followed by “Ruhunu Bera”, the traditional drum rhythms of the Low Country style.
“THridhara” as the name implies meant the Kandyan, Ruhunu and Sabaragamuwa dance styles interpreted in harmony. This was Vajira’s vision to create an item showcasing the three main styles of dance in Sri Lanka. Thaji danced the Kandyan, Mithilani the Low Country and Ruwini the Sabaragamuwa style. They were accompanied by Prasanna on the Kandyan drum, Udaya on the Low Country drum and Susantha on the Sabaragamuwa drum.
The show “Ridmaranga” was conceived and directed by Vajira’s grand-daughter Heshma Wignaraja.
Comments from the audience
Deshabandu Dr.Vajira Chitrasena said, “We are proud to be associated with the Colombo Branch of the Past Pupils’ Association of Mahamaya Girls’ College, Kandy. I am happy and thankful that they have chosen to support our efforts as we strive to uplift the traditional dance and theatre arts of our country, and through those endeavours, to also mould young artistes and citizens who are disciplined, value our own culture and customs and incorporate them into their daily lives. I am greatly appreciative of my daughters and three granddaughters for taking on the responsibility of preserving our dance and culture, and for doing so with devotion.I am particularly proud of my daughter Upeka, who for many years was the Dance Company’s principal dancer, and who now dedicates herself to promoting our productions and training our dancers to be even better than their predecessors…Lastly, my blessings and gratitude are with the dancers and drummers of the Company, who are astonishingly faithful to us at a time when the dance is heavily commercialized and its essence is rapidly disappearing. The Dance is Sacred.”
Upeka Chithrasena commented “I am the proudest teacher on earth. I am so thrilled to see my items danced better than me and with just four drummers!”
Siri Bandara Illangkoon remarked, “It was a marvelous show. I have been a fan of traditional dance for years.”
Beatrice Algewatte said, “It was fantastic. I like the synchronizing. It was simply fabulous and the drumming was very traditional.”
Dr.(Mrs.)Malinga Fernando(Vajira’s elder sister) observed “It was a wonderful show. I’ve seen them over and over again but I still appreciate them.”
Gangani Ratnayake said, “I think it’s great for Vajira and the generations to keep the traditional dance going.”
Sundari de Alwis said, “I came expecting something really good and the show came up to my expectations. Thaji and the drumming were really good.” Sundari’s eleven year-old son
Virath added, “The dancers were very graceful.”
Sanjeevani Munasinghe said, “My daughter danced in the show. I thought it was excellent, the culmination of hard work.”
Her husband Nandasena Maddugoda said, “Good mixture of different dancing styles. Respects our culture. This is difficult during this period when everything is commercialized. This Dance Institute is doing a great job.”
Niloufer Pieris commented, “We don’t see enough of this dancing and drumming. We don’t know our own traditions. I have my own classical dance troupe and I have learned from Vajira.”
Reviewed by Sirohmi Gunesekera
Pics by Samantha Perera