Sri Lankan dancer Chandana Wickramasinghe has incorporated some Indian forms into the traditional Kandyan dance
Chandana Wickramasinghe feels a deep connect with India. As a young student of dance, he came to India from Sri Lanka to learn Kathakali. “It was considered the ultimate. Many of the acclaimed artists from Sri Lanka have come to India to learn the Indian traditional arts,” he says. When he came to the Kerala Kalamandalam, however, he fell ill and had to return to Colombo. “But that did not kill my desire to go back to India,” Chandana says. He went to Shantiniketan and found himself a guru—Kalamandalam T.N. Sankaranarayanan, who taught him Kathakali. “The days at Shantiniketan were the most fruitful days of my life,” he says. Chanana also learnt Manipuri dance under Yaikhom Hemanta Kumar at Shantiniketan.
Chandana, an acclaimed dancer and founder of The Dancers’ Guild of Sri Lanka, combines authentic Sri Lankan Kandyan dance with the profound nrithya facets of Indian dances. “The stress is on nritha in the Sri Lankan dance tradition. But when it uses the nuances of natya and nritya, the performance is elevated to a whole new level,” he says.
When he started his dance school in Sri Lanka in 1997, he had only four students. Gradually, the number began to grow and today, the guild has seven branches in the country with 4,700 students and 40 professional dancers. The team has travelled the world giving performances, something that Chandana feels proud about. “It is a great opportunity to present Sri Lankan dance to the international audience,” he says.
Though a classically trained Kandyan dancer, Chandana has brought in innovations to the dance form, integrating it with modern beats, a bit of folk and classical. “It is important to tell a story through a performance. Dance is not just about movement. You have to tell a story, weave a beautiful narrative,” he says. The Kandyan dance is similar to Indian classical dance in terms of movement and costumes to a certain extent. When infused with navarasas, it becomes even more captivating, Chandana feels.
Despite years of war and struggle, art was not snuffed out in Sri Lanka, he says. “However, now that peace has come back to reign, it is the best time for art and culture to flourish.”
Though Bollywood dance has caught the imagination of the youth in Sri Lanka, a lot of youngsters are taking to classical dance. “The discipline is imparted by a classical tradition. It is extremely important for a dancer,” says Chandana, who calls himself a disciplinarian when it comes to training his students. “Unless there is a strong foundation, one cannot carry forward an art.”
Chandana choreographs for films, acts in serials and is the main judge on Lil Champs, a popular television reality dance show in Sri Lanka. He was in the city recently for a performance organised by Samudra Arts.