Saturday, September 1, 2018

Sri Lanka - Traditional Dances, Joint Issue with South Korea 2017

Technical Details:
Date of Issue: 14 November 2017
Denomination: LKR 10.00; LKR 50.00
Dimension: 300mm x 225mm
Perforations: 150 x 110
Print Color: Four Process Colours
Print Quantity: 500,000 Stamps; 15000 SS

10 Sri Lankan Rupee - Female Kandyan Dancer
The Kandyan dance, including the Kohomba Kankariya, was performed exclusively by male dancers, who belonged to the dancing caste and lived in rural areas. But in the 1920s, the westernized elite also began got take an interest in Kandyan dance. George E de Silva, a lawyer practicing in Kandy arranged for his two daughters, Minette and Anil to learn Kandyan dance from Nittawela Ukkuwa, elder brother of Gunaya. Kandyan dancers are usually treated shabbily in high caste homes, but de Silva had allowed them to sit on chairs and eat at the table with the family. The de Silva family was able to flout convention in this manner, because George was non-Goigama and his wife was from an elite Burgher family.

George E. de Silva was no ordinary person, neither was Minette. Therefore, this first venture in introducing dance to upper class women is of some significance. In 1915 George. E. de Silva and E.W.Perera had carried a secret memorial drafted by James Peiris to London, on behalf to those victimized in the 1915 riots. George later became Minster of Health in the State Council of Sri Lanka (1931) and Minister of Industries in the first Parliament. Minette ( b.1918) who seems to have dropped dance at the first opportunity, became Sri Lanka’s first woman architect.

Miriam Pieris (b.1908) later Miriam de Saram, was the first woman to publicly perform Kandyan dance. She was the daughter of Paul E. Pieris, the noted civil servant and scholar. Miriam had studied dance and music in England and India and had appeared in Alexander Korda’s 1938 film ‘The Drum’ as an ‘exotic dancer’. Two of her close relatives Justin Deraniyagala and Arthur Molamure knew about Kandyan dance and had a strong interest in its preservation. Miriam learnt Kandyan dance under Nittawela Gunaya and in the early 1930s ‘shocked the nation’ by performing Kandyan dance on stage in Colombo with the Sarasavi Players. Sarasavi Players were a new group featuring Saranagupta Amarasinghe as singer and Miriam as Kandyan dancer. Lionel Wendt had sponsored the performance. Miriam’s dancing, which was publicized in the Times of Ceylon was considered scandalous. In 1938 Miriam published an article on the dances of Ceylon in London’s "Dancing Times". She is shown dressed in the full Ves costume, tattuva and all. Miriam did not become a professional dancer but her performance was significant for breaking the gender as well as the caste barrier, said Susan Reed. Miriam belonged to the leading caste of the time, the Goigama caste.

Breen Hilda Karunatilake, known to audiences as Chandralekha, was encouraged by her husband J.D.A.Perera to study dance. Perera was at that time, head of the Art section at Government Technical College. He was a successful portrait painter and a portrait of Chandralekha, painted by him hangs in the National Art Gallery.

Chandralekha studied Udarata dance in the mid 1930s under Rangama Gunamala and Muruthawe Laminduwa, then under Algama Kiriganitha. Kiriganitha had reservations, however and did not teach her the first yakdessa dance in Kohomba Kankariya. ‘He only taught her a little, as she was a woman,’ said Chitrasena. Chandralekha had been very upset when she found that Chitrasena had been taught much more than her . But Chandralekha wanted to perform on a stage not in a kankariya. So Kiriganitha and her drummer Panis, later Pani Bharatha, modified the kankariya steps and created new dance steps and new drum beats for her. Chandralekha thereafter went to Kerala, to the Chitrodaya School at Travancore, to learn Kathakali under the renowned teacher Gopinath. Chitrasena was also training there.

Chandralekha’s first, and probably only, partner was Chitrasena. She danced with Chitrasena on several occasions. Chandralekha was not a good dancer but she was well trained, said Chitrasena. Chitrasena and Chandralekha gave a command performance before the Maharaja of Travancore in the 1940s. In 1941 they gave a performance at Kalutara, where though Chitrasena was the better dancer, Chandralekha was the centre of interest as she was female. In the same year, Chitrasena danced with Chandralekha and her troupe at Regal Theatre, Colombo, before the Governor Sir Andrew Caldecott.

Chandralekha also danced solo. She performed in full Ves costume including the tattuva. This was not well received. The traditional dancers did not like it. When Chandralekha died young, of tuberculosis, in 1941 traditional dancers attributed it to her wearing Wes. Chandralekha became well known in the island as the first woman to master Kandyan dance. There were other women in her group, but they did not dance publicly. It was a fashion among the elite women to perform Indian dances but not the Kandyan dance, observed Nurnberger. Chandralekha holds a firm, if limited place in the history of modern Kandyan dance. Chitrasena and Vajira, also Mudiyanse Disanayake speak of her when talking about dance history.

Kalasuri Vajira (b. 1931) said that she did not choose dance, she grew into it. Her outstanding ability in dance was recognized and commented on when she was a student at Kalutara Balika Vidyalaya. Vajira’s mother, who herself had wanted to be a dancer, encouraged her daughter. Vajira was sent to study under Chitrasena, in Colombo. ‘It was a very rigorous training’ she recalled. After her marriage to Chitrasena in 1950, they started performing together and worked as a team in developing the Chitrasena School of Dance, creating ballets, performing them here and abroad and acting as cultural ambassadors when necessary.

Vajira’s maiden public appearance was as a deer in the ballet Ravana, at the Independence Day celebration in 1948. She made an immediate impression. This was the start of a very successful dance career which lasted from 1948-2006. Vajira was admired and applauded where ever she danced, whether in Sri Lanka or abroad. Whenever Vajira appeared on the stage in Colombo, the audience, who usually took a couple of minutes to realize who it was, would burst into applause.

The traditional dancers also respected her. She learnt Kandyan dancing from them, including Lapaya guru, watched many Kohomba Kankariya performances, sometimes for several days in remote villages, and also took instruction from younger dancers such as Piyasara Silpadhipati who came from the rural dancing tradition and knew the dance intimately.

Of the three women dancers discussed in this essay, it is Vajira who has made the greatest contribution to dance. Vajira created a lasya (feminine) dance style. This could be seen, for instance, in her interpretation of the Gajaga vannama. This lasya style gave a new dimension to the Kandyan dance. ‘But it took many years to perfect the style,’ protested Vajira.

Vajira then moved ‘from being a dancer to being a choreographer.’ Starting with Hima kumari in 1952 she choreographed 13 or 14 ballets for children as well as seven ballets for adults, and three created together with Chitrasena. ‘This was a big step for me,’ she said. ‘I began by composing small pieces for school dance programmes. I would recreate within the given pattern of steps. I then began improving the dance movements. I explored the techniques of elevation in dancing and it evolved into a completely new and unique style, I began to create dance steps and sequences for different moods, for different characters. I tried to combine indigenous forms of dance with some of the movements and styles that I saw in performances in other parts of the world. But it is a real challenge to work with the traditional forms and try to introduce some new elements into the old repertoires, she concluded.

The first female Kandyan dance costume was designed by Somabandu Vidyapathi for Vajira’s Pooja dance in Ravana ballet in 1949. It included a headdress and armlet. This is now the standard costume for women Kandyan dancers. Vajira herself designed a practice costume for the women students to wear for rehearsals and lessons.

Vajira taught at the Chitrasena School of Dance, and ran it as well. That is well known. What is less well known is that Vajira was responsible for most of the syllabuses taught in the Chitrasena School. Also that she had created a series of exercises and rhythmic movements to train the dancer’s body and had also introduced positions from Yoga. Vajira taught dance in several schools in and around Colombo as well. Her students at Princess of Wales College, Moratuwa danced the ballet Sepalika in 1960.

Chitrasena and Vajira have created a ‘natum paramparawa’ consisting exclusively of women performers. There is daughter Upekha, who was principal dancer of the Chitrasena Dance Company and Anjalika, a fine character dancer and also a choreographer. Granddaughter Thaji is now principal dancer of the company, and Heshma is its choreographer. Vajira’s younger sister Vipuli , in my opinion, also deserves mention in this list. She was a very good dancer who could command a stage when necessary. Like Vajira, Vipuli also showed promise at a young age ,when she starred in ‘Hima kumari’. Vipuli left the stage on marriage, but ran a dancing school in London for some time.

50 Sri Lankan Rupee - Chunaengjoen (Dance of the Nightingale)
Chunaengjeon or Dance of Spring Nightingale (춘앵전) is a Korean court dance (jeongjae) created during the later period of Joseon Dynasty.

The oldest document providing brief information about Chunaengjeon is Jinchan Uigwe (Manual of Court Banquet) published in 1848. According to Jinchan Uigwe text, Chunaengjeon have existed in Joseon court since 1649, but only then under Crown Prince Hyomyeong's tutelage it was revised and perfected. The dance was presented to 40th birthday Queen Sunwon in 1828. Jinchan Uigwe wrote that the Korean Chunaengjeon originated from a Chinese nightingale dance which was created by Tang Gaozong's court musician.

It is written:
According to Chinese encyclopedia Yuanchien Leihan of 1701, Emperor Gaozong from Tang listened to nightingale singing and ordered court musician Po Ming Chien to express it into musical composition. A mat was provided and girl dancer danced on it. Moving back and forth, and turning around, she dances only on the mat. The song text is as follows: "Walking in the moonlight, wind through sleeves, standing before a flower, yearning for a lover.

The manual of 1828 did not contain dance choreography. Both 1829 and 1848's Uigwes also provided same information. The first book that contained the dance choreography was Manual of Court Dance("Jeongjae Mudo Holgi") of 1893. It comprised the choreography of 37 Chinese and Korean dances in the form of manuscript. During Japanese occupation of Korea, court dance was banned. Therefore, only five court dances originally inherited; Cheoyongmu, Mugo, Pogurak, Geommu, and Chunaengjeon. Eventually, court dances were performed in entertainment house (gyobang).

One of the last original skill holder of Chunaengjeon was Kim Cheon-Heung (1909-2007). At the age of 15 he performed Chunaengjeon in front of Emperor Sunjong.During period of Japanese occupation, he only focused on preserving traditional music. After Korean independence in 1945, he began to revive the dance in Yi Wang-Jik Court Music Association.

Chunaengjeon is the only solo Korean court dance. It shares the same basic pattern and movement with other court dances. Among Joseon court dances it is praised as "the flower of court dance".

The most important movement is hwajeontae, when the dancer imitates bird perching on flower by put the colorful sleeves at the back and smiles. This is a movement hard to find in other court dances and the highlight of the dance. The quality of smile decides the quality of the dancer.

The dancer dances on a floral-pattern mat (hwamunseok) with defined and controlled steps. The costume is called yellow aengsam. The headdress can be lotus coronet for male dancer and jokduri for female dancer. Another peculiarity is they are not wearing shoes, only with traditional socks beoseon. Court music piece pyeongjo hoesang is played to accompany the dance.

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