She set the trend

Saturday, 29 September 2018 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Having collected the Lifetime Achievement Award at the recent Derana Sri Lankan of the Year 2018 awards presentation, Vajira was somewhat reluctant to speak at length. Obviously she was moved with the honour bestowed on her, and of course, age also must be telling on her after at least 65 years of dancing without a break. I recalled how 50 to 60 years ago, her voice competed with the noise of drums at the dance classes at the Chitrasena Kalayatanaya in Kollupitiya on Galle Road. 

I can’t remember seeing so much of greenery at any other place in that area. There was plenty of space in front and the old style bungalow was behind. There was a makeshift dance floor in front. Classes were also held in the front corridors of the house. 

The stage has never been a strange place for Vajira – not only when she was dancing but also during curtain calls to receive applauds of the audience or appreciations from distinguished persons during trips abroad. As the full house at the Hilton stood up and clapped when she walked up to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award, she would have remembered those unforgettable moments. 

It was significant that she was recognised in this fashion on the 75th anniversary of the Kalayatanaya.

At the request of the presenter, Vajira’s two daughters Upeka and Anjalika, and son Anudatta joined her on stage after she collected the award.

When Upeka was requested to speak, she spoke of the tough journey over a long period of 75 years and made special mention of President Chandrika Kumaratunga for donating the land at Narahenpita in 1998 for them to run the Kalayatanaya. “We are indebted to her for her timely gesture,” she said. 

When they had to leave the Kollupitiya premises it was not easy find a place in Colombo and they shifted to Ragama which affected their routine badly. They were so fortunate in President Chandrika K allocating the block of land at Narahenpita after a few years.

At the Awards Night, Vajira would have been happy to see one of their star pupils, Channa Wijewardena being selected for the award for Popular Entertainer. Channa paid a glowing tribute to the Chitrasena duo. 

I remember Channa and Ravibandu, the master of drumming today, at the Kalayatanaya classes in the early 1970s. I used to take my two young daughters for classes on Saturdays and spend the morning either watching the students learn dancing or have a chat with Chitrasena who had a day off because of the kids’ classes.

The last time I met Chitrasena and Vajira together was at the annual Eagle Awards for Excellence night when both of them were felicitated by Eagle Insurance Company (now AIA Insurance). We had dinner together and enjoyed Chitrasena’s anecdotes. Vajira used to interrupt or correct him whenever he commented on something about her. 

Just as much as Chitrasena won recognition for his efforts with the award of ‘Deshamanya’ – the highest title awarded to a citizen of Sri Lanka, Vajira was also awarded the title ‘Deshabandu’. Both were also conferred honorary doctorates by the Sri Lankan universities.

The first Sri Lankan professional female dancer should be more than happy with the way the two daughters, particularly Upeka followed by granddaughter Thaji, are continuing the tradition which she and the husband built up over 75 years.