Chitrasena, the doyen of Sri Lankan Dance and Vajira, the country’s original Prima Ballerina produced, among their other works of art, Upeka, who grew to replace her mother as the most exquisite dancer of her time in Sri Lanka. Conditioned to the sounds of the drums and rhythms of Sri Lanka virtually from her time in the womb, Upeka grew to take the stage from her appearance as a wee tyke in the children’s ballet Vanaja, right on throughout the rest of her life, performing all over the world, including command performances for a bevy of distinguished personalities and Heads of States that included in 1979, His Royal Highness Crown Prince Akihito of Japan, in 1980, His Royal Highness King Birendra of Nepal, in 1981 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and His Royal Highness Duke of  Edinborough, in 1995, Her Excellency Khalida Zia, Prime Minister of Bangladesh, in 1997, Her Excellency Chandrika Kumaratunga, President of Sri Lanka and Foreign Delegates on the occasion of Independence Day.

Among the awards she has received are the following:

1995 – BUNKA Award for Special Achievement in Dancing from the Japan – Sri Lanka Friendship Cultural Fund

2000 – SAARC Women’s Association Award for Excellence for Woman Achievers – For Cultural Achievement

2002 – ZONTA Award for Woman of Achievement for Creative & Performing Arts

2008 – RANGABHIMANEE Award for the Contribution & Welfare of the National Oriental Ballet. Awarded by The Department of Cultural Affairs & The National Dance, Oriental Ballet and Puppetry Panel of The Arts Council of Sri Lanka

So, in order to celebrate her fifty years of performing, her students together with The Chitrasena – Vajira Dance Foundation will present Guru Pooja, showcasing some classic solos and items from Upeka’s repertoire, performed by the next generation and introducing three new creations by Vajira, Anjalika (Upeka’s sister) and Heshma (her niece) on Friday December 19th and Saturday December 20th at 7.30 pm. The venue is the Chitrasena Kalayathanaya at 590, Elvitigala Mawatha (next door to the Apollo Hospital), Colombo 5. Tickets are Rs. 1,500 and seating is limited to 100 persons each day.

I am told that all the tickets have been sold out, but that there will be another performance on Thursday to accommodate all those folk that want to attend but missed out on the tickets for the two scheduled nights. So if you want to be part of this event, call now and reserve your seats. The contact information is as follows: Telephone the Chitrasena Kalayathanya at 060-2150570 or e-mail cvdance@gmail.com. All proceeds are in aid of the Chitrasena Dance Foundation Building Fund.

Her dance performances abroad – both as a soloist, as well as with the troupe, have garnered for Upeka excellent reviews from a whole host of critics and dance aficionados around the world throughout the many years she has performed. There are just too many reviews by internationally renowned dance critics to reproduce here, so I’ll just limit the reviews to a few of them. The first is what her father, Chitrasena had to say, and you may rest assured that compliments didn’t come easy from the Maestro – no matter who it was that was being reviewed.

My daughter Upeka has all the qualities and attributes of an exceptional dancer. Being a third generation artiste and having grown up with the dance she has naturally absorbed it in its widest sense. She is on a level of her own amongst the younger generation of artists and is a typical product of the new generation, skilfully blending the traditional style with a more modern interpretation which she has developed into a style uniquely her own. Moreover, she has an extraordinary sense of drama and has proved herself a very dramatic artiste as evidenced in her portrayals in KINKINI KOLAMA and DANCE OF SHIVA. She is also endowed with a keen intelligence and sensitivity which are invaluable assets for an artisteChitrasena – 1986

Upeka, child of Sri Lanka’s First Family of Dance, is carrying the torch of her nation’s cultural heritage. She is a blazing performer, rich in technical prowess and innate spiritual and theatrical charisma. Upeka inhabits her dance as does an animal its fur. Every part of her body is in countermotion – her head, shoulders and torso spiral with a fluid and circular dynamic as her feet pound out staccato rhythms on the wooden floor. Expressions of concentration alternate with flashes of earthy humor” – Jonathan Hollander, Director/Choreographer, Battery Dance Company – New York, USA – June 1994

How can I seize the laughing, flashing
movement of this face?
The distortions of a smile when cheek
Pushes eye and teeth flash brilliants?
The poise of a head on a neck, through
the arms, to the aerobatic fingers of a dancer?
How can a single line catch her vivacity
Or the restless grace of a disciplined sambhur?
Calm her face. Make dense the lines
And place sparkling white on nearby things
To catch Upeka

Barbara Sansoni – March 1994

Upeka is the kind of dancer whose artistry derives from uncommonly striking personality. She’s long-limbed, with huge hands, enormous eyes and arching eyebrows. Like the late opera singer Maria Callas, she has a commanding presence and dramatic forcefulness” – Pamela Squires, The Washington Post – June 1994

Certainly the Company’s leading dancer, Upeka, has such great technique that she sometimes appears to be standing still and just letting the beat vibrate her across the floor. Pure pneumatics” – Clifford Bishop – Sadlers Wells – The Independent – June 8, 1995

I have never seen an exponent of such a symphony of the total female form of movement in the Eastern sense as Upeka ….. she is a glory to behold” – Nigel Kerner – Sadlers Wells – Daily News – July 6, 1995

Upeka brings us into a diamond-like aura of concentration with careful, elongated balances and articulate gestures of leg, hands and full body which tell us of mysterious mythical civilization of which we can only dream. Her regal quality, coupled with pantherine physicality bring luster, definition and contrast to the programme” – Jonathan Hollander, Director/Choreographer, Battery Dance Company – New York, USA – May 1996

To the goddess Upeka – Thank you for transporting me to heaven on earth” – Ustad Zakir Hussain – Colombo,  February 1998

The star dancer was Upeka, a member of Sri Lanka’s first family of dance. She opened the evening with ‘Saraswathi Pooja’ a dance offered to the goddess Sarawathie, and immediately established a commanding presence. Her dance projected joy and spirituality through a series of highly disciplined movements. From the classical pose of splayed legs with out-turned feet and raised arms, she carried us through a series of perfectly executed moves. The command of her presence was elegantly counterpointed by a chorus of fluent female dancers….Upeka danced throughout the evening, delighting with the warmth of her presentation and impressing with the unerring discipline and accuracy of her every move.” – Dino Mahony – South China Morning Post – Hong Kong, October 1998

Upeka has a compelling stage presence, a svelte figure and she exudes energy and strength. As you sit on the edge of your seat watching her perform to the exciting drum beats, she erupts like a vocano and as you see gradual progression of her dance you feel mesmerised…..Upeka with her innate talent has contributed immensely to the dance traditions of Sri Lanka imbuing the form with contemporary sensibilities. I would love to watch her dance again and again.” –Dr. Sunil Kothari, Dance Critic – The Times of India, New Delhi, India – January 2003

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