Gifted moves | Daily News

Gifted moves

Kapila Palihawadana.  Pictures by Roshan Pitipana.
Kapila Palihawadana. Pictures by Roshan Pitipana.

Contemporary dance was born in Ohio city, US. In the US, Kapila studied the numerous techniques of contemporary dance. That’s where the uniqueness of nATANDA emerges. It is a combination of many local traditions such as Angampora.

Kandyan dance is the oldest dance form in the world. Yet what is the fate of the Kandyan dancers, Kapila questions. They are hired for every trivial function. On the contrary, Noh and Kabuki of Japan are an expensive art. They are not easily accessible

In 2003, an undergraduate with an animated spirit wanted to establish his own dance company. That was to become the first contemporary dance group in Sri Lanka afterwards. The youth, yclept Kapila Palihawadana, studied dance only in his first year and had to dedicate the rest of his university years to cram German and Translation Methods. But his insatiable desire fell for the aesthetic movement lingered. He was never to give in. Things took a decisive turn when he obtained a German-funded scholarship to study dance.

“Following my stay in Germany, I felt like I should choose dancing as my profession. Over the period I studied dancing in Germany, I could notice quite a lot of talent as well as the support offered to art in the country,” Palihawadana muses.

Why not Sri Lanka then? Sri Lankans have the talent, Palihawadana adds, but not quite much the opportunity. With the dearth of opportunity, you cannot look forward to commitment and discipline. That gives us the key to the mystery of why dancing does not flourish much in Sri Lanka – at least professionally.

This instigated Kapila to brave the odds. He named his dance company nATANDA, an acronym influenced by four languages: Sinhala, German, Russian and English.

Immense talent

“When I travelled from one city to another, conducting workshops, getting along with well-known artistes in Jaffna, Batticaloa, Mannar and Vavuniya, I have observed immense talent in young dancers. Travelling across the country, we found out how dance could play a beautiful role in bridging communities.”

Palihawadana hastens to add that dance is not the only art form that can bridge communities. But when you practise contemporary dance, without confining yourself to specific variants such as Kandyan and Indian, you will be able to make people more comfortable.

“If I try to teach Kandyan dance in Jaffna, they will naturally question why. On the contrary, contemporary dance is the commonest platform for engaging the communities without any barrier.”

Dance could bring in a small step. Palihawadana believes that artistes should think seriously on how they can contribute to the ethnic harmony. Palihawadana’s dance productions, held consecutively since 2005, have thrown the spotlight on communities, social issues and environmental concerns.

The nATANDA idea struck Kapila while he was still studying in Germany. Having been to a number of dance festivals in Germany, Kapila was passionately nursing the idea of organising one in his motherland. What seemed more important to him is the dance’s capacity to bring people together.

nATFEST (nATANDA International Dance Festival), which will be held from December 1 to 4, is the latest of his festival series.

What can dance do to the community? The strength always keeps the people’s mind afresh, disciplined and calm. That only happens when people are exposed to arts.

“We need to find tips on how to make people more open-minded and more aware of the surrounding. How can we make people respect each other? Dance helps that.”

Artistes need to keep on producing artworks to feed the people’s intellectual and entertainment hunger. The first international contemporary dance company established in Sri Lanka, nATANDA is involved in dancing from morning to night.

Foreign attention

“We are the only full-time dance company. We want to open more doors for the younger generation. This is something you can benefit. You are also supporting the community. I am really fascinated about this because I know how valuable it is in Sri Lanka.”

Contemporary dance was born in Ohio city, US. In the US, Kapila studied the numerous techniques of contemporary dance. That’s where the uniqueness of nATANDA emerges. It is a combination of many local traditions such as Angampora.

“We merge it in a careful way. And in a unique style. That’s why nATANDA stands unique above all the other dance forms in the world. We are just we are. What we do is basically none of the other countries will be doing.”

There are similarities though. When they fuse traditional elements into modernity, it draws the foreign attention. Maintaining uniqueness is no plain sailing. The nATANDA is extensively engaged in research. Every time they come up with a production, it is an offshoot of intensive research.

That is why the all-day-long practice is necessary. Contemporary dance is contemporary. Every day it is subject to change. A choreographer should be updated with every emerging technique.

All the same, Kapila’s contemporary dance concept is not much to the appeal of the traditional schools. Most traditional dancers loathe his concept. The most interesting feedback against Kapila Palihawadana is that he destroys the traditional beauty of dance.

“When we look two millennia back, yes we have a great tradition. But at the same time, as a contemporary person, you need to become accustomed to your modern day living. If you are so concerned about the tradition, then why use a smartphone? Why a mobile phone? It is the work of the contemporary society. You need to merge with it. So I don’t really care what people say about my dance. I accept and respect their comments, though I do not think we destroy the culture.”

Negativity

Kapila terms it as enriching and enhancing the prevailing culture into a different way of culture. Sri Lankans need to move ahead. The negativity all the time harms creativity. The traditional dancers do not adhere to all the traditional elements. If tradition does not change, development cannot come. The development comes only when the people are ready to move ahead.

“As Sri Lankans, we are rich. Look at Dalada Maligawa. Look at Sigiriya. We never had to borrow these things from another country. But the problem is that we do not understand our own values. And worse, we do not respect our own values. Business magnates are ready to throw in money if some Indian artiste comes here. But the local artistes do not get the same treatment.”

Kandyan dance is the oldest dance form in the world. Yet what is the fate of the Kandyan dancers, Kapila questions. They are hired for every trivial function. On the contrary, Noh and Kabuki of Japan are an expensive art. They are not easily accessible.

“We have launched groundbreaking productions for the last couple of years. My dancers have been working with me for 16 years. They come to my place every Sunday. Who would be in for such a commitment? That’s your family day. That’s how things are with the younger generation.”

Always with a smartphone held on their palms, the younger generation is open-minded and ready to see the world.

“They understand the facts. If we only had the younger generation in the decision-making bodies, things would have been much easier.” 

The nATFEST has hosted dancers from Sri Lanka, United Kingdom, South Korea, Germany, Lebanon, USA, Malaysia, Russia, India, Switzerland, Australia and Luxembourg over the past two years and has mesmerized 8,000 audience members collectively.

This year nATFEST will begin at the Verrasingam Hall, Jaffna, on December 1 at 6:30 pm, while the festival will end in Colombo with performances held at NADA on December 7 and 8 at 7 pm.

Supported by German Embassy, Turkish Embassy, Pro-Helvatia, Nelung Arts Center, Arts Council, House of Fashion and Goethe Institute Colombo, the main partner of nATANDA International Dance Festival is Swiss Embassy.

 


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