By Vipula Wanigasekera
Sri Lanka and India are perhaps two countries that have preserved the ancient dance forms in their classical standard until today and each of these dance traditions such as Ves, Thelme, Wadigapatuna, Salu Paliya, Naiyandi in Sri Lanka and Kathak, Oddisi, Kuchchipudi, Manipuri, Baratha in India, have their own unique steps and variations that one cannot find anywhere else in the world.
In reality however, the improvised, creative and fusion dances have stormed the world, terribly at the cost of the traditional dances which have been retained in some countries with tremendous marketing efforts like Kabuki in Japan. Sri Lanka and India have suffered silently though not explicitly as there is always something being presented as ‘entertainment’ in the guise of a ‘cultural performance’.
It is heartbreaking to see Classical exponents performing Raga in average restaurants in India and our Ves dancers showing acrobatics at weddings and during ushering of guests up to the oil lamp or podium. Confusion in the interpretation of what we should present to foreign audiences is mounting than ever before.
It is at a time like this ‘Feel Sri Lanka’ was launched in Colombo by tourism authorities every Friday which is a concert of authentic traditional dances of Sri Lanka especially for tourists, foreign delegates and expatriates. The success of the programme so far is reflected by the common testament of the viewers after the show — ‘we have never seen a thing like this’!
After the launch on 3 September, one industry expert commented ‘it was wonderful, but how will you sustain this? A very pertinent view point expressed through experience which calls for the need to find a sustainable solution and if not, our dance forms will face the threat of fading away from foreign audiences eventually.
With a continuous effort to educate Hoteliers, Tour Operators, Guide Lecturers, Embassies, NGOOs, Corporates, International Schools, Educational Councils and through distribution of promotional material, tourism authorities have kept the show moving successfully for several weeks every Friday evening at the Hotel School auditorium in Colombo 3. (Special groups and conference delegates are offered complimentary entrance).
There is however a bigger picture. ‘Feel Sri Lanka’ is not just a traditional dance concert but it is carefully crafted taking many factors into consideration to dispel misperceptions and ignorance in the subject matter in terms of marketing of such components of culture.
This concert has used several dance troupes and the audience including locals has praised their performances without knowing who did the performance. The decision on the programme, items, timing, duration, presentation techniques, combination of drums and CD music etc, is retained with the tourism authorities.
One needs to work on the premise that’ What I like to see’ is not what the audience wants at a given time and occasion. Traditional performances obviously do not fit into night clubs, restaurants or even at cocktails where full attention is not given. The surrounding ambience must conform to the performance. Improvised and fusion dances are important at certain occasions and here again one should not forget that some of them are developed on traditional movements and steps.
The profile of the audience, professions, countries represented, occasion, time etc. compel organisers to select dance items while keeping a balance between traditional and improvised dance forms. Coordination, costumes, presentations, right kind of sounds, lights are all essential to make a performance a success.
Naga Gurula cannot be shown without a narration. Same goes with Wannams.
Gini Sisila is not allowed in most venues equipped with fire alarms. Salu Paaliya needs more variations than what it presents traditionally. The retention power of an audience is crucial. An item that reaches the peak has to come to an end before it loses glamour.
Therefore setting up of the right blend in a cultural performance is an art by itself that requires intellectual input as against individual likes and dislikes. ‘Feel Sri Lanka’ answers many questions and the Tourism Authorities invite all those who interact with foreigners and tourists to bring them to this magnificent show being staged with a lot of time and effort considering that the final beneficiaries of this exercise are the local artistes.
(The Writer is General Manager of Sri Lanka Convention Bureau under Sri Lanka Tourism and for more information of Feel Sri Lanka, contact Kumudu 0714880570, Achni 071 4880571, Nemanthi 071987 2028 Hasanji 077 362 7733 and Gayan 077 2544117.)