The Dancer was pretty stressed – not that it was much of a change, given the circumstances during the recent past leading up to the day! And now the day had finally arrived – after years of hard work, heart-break and all manner of other factors that the family had to bear, the Dance School was a reality and the morning’s programme would be the second of the ‘rituals’ to take place. The first was ‘the real thing’ – an all-night ritual on the day appointed by the Guru with all its astrological significance, for the initiation of the Chitrasena Kalayathanaya (written of in my post ‘From the sublime to the ridiculous to the sublime’ sometime in October). This one was to introduce the students and their parents to the new Dance School – the first real home for this amazing First Family of Dance in Sri Lanka, since they were made to move from the original base that had served them as their home as well as the school from its inception in 1944, until they were ‘eased out’ in 1982. And since this time, it was a matter of hiring halls for classes and rehearsals and going through the most trying times in order to keep the spirit of the Dance School alive and kicking. But they did – in spite of all odds against them – and survived, to make Chitrasena’s dream a reality. The tragedy is that the great man passed away a little over a year ago and was not able to experience the day.

The site was granted to Chitrasena for the establishment of the Kalayathanaya by the government of Chandrika Kumaranatunge, who was a pupil at the famous Kollupitya landmark in her early years and who has remained a loyal admirer of the art of Chitrasena and Vajira. She was acutely aware of the difficulties faced by the family and always lamented the fact that previous governments (her mother’s included) had not seen fit to provide the facilities for a permanent Dance Academy so that these icons of Sri Lankan culture would have a repository where they could preserve, pass on and sustain the tradition and maintain their standards of creative artistry that they had evolved to shape and aid in the evolution of the indigenous dance forms of Sri Lanka. Chitrasena was largely responsible for preserving the indigenous dance forms and rituals, making them accessible to the general public by presenting them in a theatrical form without distorting their content. And then he took it a step further, by adapting the traditional dance movements to create an alternative genre, resulting in the Sinhala Dance-Drama and the Sinhala Ballet as we know it today. Vajira, first his pupil and later his wife, made her own significant contribution to the Sinhala Dance idiom through her own artistry as Sri Lanka’s first Prima Ballerina and then as a choreographer par excellence. Together they fashioned Upeka – and later Anjelika, who would also follow their illustrious parents’ path. Upeka grew to be a star in her own right, taking over the leadership of the Dance Company in their tours all around the world, garnering excellent reviews from distinguished international critics and contemporary artistes, whilst Angelika excelled in the art of mime, which she combined with her dance prowess to create a number of memorable characters in the family’s creations.

And so, in addition to the students and their parents, The Dancer and family invited a very few of us friends and supporters to the opening. It was a modest affair and the traditional lighting of the lamp was followed by a short introduction by Heshma, Chitrasena’s grand-daughter and daughter of Anjelika, who is playing a prominent role in the re-establishment of the Kalayathanaya in its new premises. As Heshma informed all those present, the building that was being inaugurated is ‘temporary’, in that it will serve as the center for classes, rehearsals, performances (of sorts) and other Dance School matters, until the ultimate goal of the Dance Academy complex is realized. The scheme, she said, has been designed, but as funding is in short supply they would have to manage until it all falls into place. And this, she said is where it will take off from. Till then they would carry on, as ever, desperately trying to raise the funds to make Chitrasena’s dream (now at least partially fulfilled) a reality. So if anyone out there has the inclination and / or means to assist in a truly worthy cause, check the family out and join in the effort.

A short programme of dance and drums, which included an item by the younger students and later by the older ones, ended with a traditional puppet show, which kept the children enthralled. Kiribath and the usual traditional breakfast fare followed.

And then I beat a hasty retreat to the hills.

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