Across The Palk Strait, There Is Art

Yazhpanam P.S. Balamurugan needed to cancel almost a dozen performances in India final yr, after the pandemic made it unattainable to journey from Jaffna, the place he lives, in Sri Lanka’s Northern Province.

The Rich Cross-Border Collaboration And Exchange Between Sri Lanka And India Has Been Halted By The Pandemic

Yazhpanam P.S. Balamurugan needed to cancel almost a dozen performances in India final yr, after the pandemic made it unattainable to journey from Jaffna, the place he lives, in Sri Lanka’s Northern Province.

“I participated in some online events, and in another instance recorded a performance here and shared it with organisers there, but there’s nothing like a live performance in front of an eager audience,” says the nagaswaram artiste, who has a steadily rising fan base in south India.

Those who heard him play Charukesi at a Chennai live performance over two years in the past have neither forgotten the rendition nor been in a position to recognize different Charukesis since, with out being reminded of his. The strong sound emanating from his wind instrument, sustained by lengthy, full breaths, brimming with life and emotion, casts a spell on audiences.

For Sri Lankan artistes like him, performing in India defied the standard logistical problems of going overseas. The comparatively pleasant visa regime, innumerable flight choices, and the brief journey time — a Colombo-Chennai flight takes lower than an hour, and a Jaffna-Chennai flight was launched in 2019 — made journey pretty easy. “I can’t wait to travel and perform there again once borders open up,” says Balamurugan.

Kandyan dance exponent and guru Upeka Chitrasena has carried out the world over, however the viewers in India, particularly Chennai, is “something else,” she says. “Rows and rows of elderly people and children sit through performances, keeping taal and responding with spontaneous applause when they like something. It is rare to see that sort of engagement and passion.”

Collaboration with Nrityagram

The stronger magnet pulling her, nonetheless, is a few 370 km away from Chennai. When she says she dearly misses India, she means she misses Nrityagram, the Odissi dance village close to Bengaluru that has been second dwelling for the famend Sri Lankan artiste since 2003. This is the longest she has been away, on condition that she normally makes 5 – 6 journeys a yr. “I stopped performing in 2011 and only teach now, so seeing dancers at Nrityagram learn and rehearse gives me the energy of my own performance days,” she says.

Artistes from the Colombo-based Chitrasena Dance Company, named after Upeka’s father, Sri Lanka’s pioneering Kandyan dance exponent, and the Nrityagram group have been collaborating for a decade now. Two productions, ‘Samhara’ (2012) and ‘Ahuti’ (2019), deliver the 2 very totally different however delightfully complementary traditions, Kandyan and Odissi, in dialog. The pandemic meant that the 2 teams missed some joint efficiency excursions final yr, however they’ve stayed in contact all by. Their lengthy skilled and creative collaboration has birthed valuable friendships — like Chitrasena’s with Nrityagram’s creative director and Odissi exponent Surupa Sen. Several journeys throughout the Palk Strait from each side, each deliberate and impromptu, have strengthened these ties.

It was 2019; artistes from the 2 dance colleges have been rehearsing for ‘Ahuti’ in Bengaluru. Surupa had casually talked about to Chitrasena’s creative director, Heshma Wignaraja, and principal dancer, Thaji Dias [both Chitrasena’s nieces], how pretty it will be to have Upeka Chitrasena for Guru Poornima the following day. “I got a call on a Saturday evening from my nieces about this. And by 5 p.m. on Sunday, I was at Surupa’s doorstep, surprising her. I cannot forget her expression when she saw me there,” says Chitrasena, including: “So many memorable rehearsals, performances, conversations, and birthdays together — I miss all of those!” Her mom, the senior Kandyan dance exponent, choreographer and guru, Vajira Chitrasena, was chosen for the Padma Shri award in India final yr, however the pandemic meant she couldn’t journey to New Delhi to obtain the honour.

Colombo-based Bharatanatyam artiste and instructor Thivya Sujen has had totally different causes to go Tamil Nadu yearly. If she was not taking her Abhinayakshetra School of Dance’s productions there, she was visiting to work on the music rating. “It was our honour to collaborate with composers like Lalgudi G.J.R. Krishnan and Rajkumar Bharathi for our productions. I would spend about a fortnight there for the recordings,” she says.

Thivya additionally took her college students who have been making ready for his or her maiden stage efficiency to Chennai for the photoshoots and to get their costumes performed. But what the dancer misses most is visiting her guru, C.V. Chandrasekhar, the veteran Bharatanatyam exponent. She had been particularly trying ahead to assembly him on his eighty fifth birthday final May, however journey was shut down. She determined to mark the event in Sri Lanka by organising the Global Association of Sri Lankan Bharatanatyam Artistes, a platform bringing collectively performers and lecturers who have been pressured to depart the nation throughout the anti-Tamil pogrom of 1983. She additionally organised on-line lectures with Indian artistes, akin to Priyadarsini Govind, and commenced a digital ‘Nattuvangam’ course, once more periodically roping in Indian artistes. “I believe the relationship between artistes of Sri Lanka and India must continue online until we can meet again in person,” she says.

Literary meets

“No one expected this sort of break,” says ‘Kambavarithy’ Ilankai Jeyaraj, a famend Tamil scholar, who based and helms the Kamban Kazhagam in Sri Lanka. Other than often travelling to India to take part in literary meets or to ship lectures — generally even 5 occasions a month — Jeyaraj has been a primary power bringing senior Indian artistes and students to Sri Lanka yearly. The Kamban Kazhagam’s ticket-free arts festivals, held in Colombo and Jaffna, are identified for the massive crowds they draw. Their final pageant was in early 2020, when playback singer S.P. Balasubrahmanyam was honoured.

“We have invited Indian artistes since the mid-1990s, and over the years they have built a special bond with audiences here. They stay in our homes, eat with us, spend time with us… only such strong relationships built over time can brave an unprecedented situation like this pandemic,” says Jeyaraj.

Along with its department in Australia, the Colombo Kamban Kazhagam held its literary meet on-line and has additionally begun sharing movies from its archives on its web site. Meanwhile, Jeyaraj is remotely working with musician Bombay Jayashri, a daily and much-loved performer in Colombo and Jaffna, on an album of devotional verses.

Both artistes and audiences are “yearning for interaction,” Jeyaraj says, hoping a bodily pageant may change into doable this yr.



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