The parking lot was full when Java and I arrived at Bishop’s College for the matinee performance on Sunday – we had decided that we had to watch both shows on this final day of ‘Kumbi Kathawa’, as having watched some of the rehearsals we realised that there was more to absorb than one viewing could possibly provide.

The introduction was in the form of an audio-message in the blacked-out theatre with a single spot focused on an empty chair and had to do with the trials and tribulations encountered by Chitrasena and Vajira ever since they were ousted from the “rambling old house on Galle Road”, to find a space for their work. The message was clear – the Kalayathanaya has finally found a ‘home’ and temporary measures provide the facilities to conduct classes and rehearsals, BUT funding to complete the dream is a dire necessity.

The introduction was followed by ‘Rebirth’ – a sequence of movements that was choreographed by Heshma for Thaji to music by Pradeep Ratnayake for the show he put on some weeks ago. The control and precision with which Thaji executed the movements to the music was near perfect – if not perfection itself. As I think I mentioned in the earlier review of this piece, “a dream in slo-mo” – but more of Thaji later.

Rebirth’ gave way to a short audio-visual presentation on ‘The making of Kumbi Kathawa’ and informed the audience of how the production took shape over a few years. All very useful and appropriate no doubt, but both Java and I, being rather impatient with introductions and speakers at performances in general, thought that this took away from the whole. But that’s just us, as a lot of folk we spoke with after the event appreciated the information and thought it added to the total effect. It also seems that as the ballet itself was only like forty-five minutes, the producers needed to add something more. Weeell – we all know how that goes – the different stroke thang, maaan…

Kumbi Kathawa was just so full of visual treats combined with the very controlled movements of children who seemed to be so in tune with the totality of the production, that it boggled the mind. The detailed intricacy of the costumes that brought the various insects to life on the stage, combined with the lighting and music (an outstanding selection, immaculately edited), conjured up a magical fantasy-land that took me back to childhood books and memories of mystical other-worlds. What more could one expect from a theatrical experience?

Thaji played the villainous mosquito and did it to perfection. Her total absorption of the music made her timing impeccable and this, combined with her fluid grace, her flawless lines and her malevolent expression, elicited the Yang aspect of the story in no uncertain terms. Having watched Thaji develop over the years, it was always obvious that she would be the heir apparent to her predecessors – Vajira,  Grande Dame of Sri Lankan Dance (her grandmother), and Upeka, successor to Vajira (Thaji’s aunt and teacher). This has now come to pass, as Thaji has surely come of age – and from now on, can only get better over the years to come, which, to us dance-aficionados, is something to really look forward to.

Anjalika’s labour of love was nearly four years in the making under the most rigorous conditions and at times she felt that it would never see the light of day. However, her perseverance paid off, being catalysed by the return of her daughter Heshma from the USA armed with her newly acquired degree in Theatre Arts and other assorted-related qualifications and new thoughts about choreography and other theatre concepts not used by her predecessors for their productions. Then with Mahesh combining his talents with Anjalika’s concept and Heshma’s ideas and drive, the battle to bring the story to life on stage was finally won.

So, in the end, ‘Kumbi Kathawa’ was to Java and yours truly, a magical experience made all the more wonderful by seeing how little children could be taught to combine and to play their parts with discipline, coordination, timing and cooperation – lessons that would stand any child, anywhere, in good stead. And then there’s the distinct sensation that the Chitrasena – Vajira legacy is well on its way and in excellent hands, with the second and third generations of the clan (Upeka and Anjalika, Heshma, Thaji and Umi) emerging as the successors to the tradition of sustaining the art of Chitrasena.

This bodes well for us all, as it does appear that creative and traditional dance in Sri Lanka are alive and well – and in safe hands for now.

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