Macbeth was my dream for 22 years. In fact, I conceived it, wrote the libretto/scenario, did sketches and drawings and costumes in 1986. But, the dream was only realized in 2008. Shakespeare's Macbeth contains some of fantastic ingredients for dance; Macbeth - a soul that falls prey to his own destiny. lady Macbeth - that crafty woman who is greedy for power, the witches - symbolizing the latent evil in man himself, the mystic Birnam Wood and the dagger scene. All provide fertile grounds for effective chorography. I think my first idea to dance Macbeth came from a Princes Tina Ballet Book that my father had gifted to my mother somewhere in seventies which carried some pictures of an amateur production of Macbeth. Later, I read Macbeth for my O' Levels. (Of course, Thaththa was my tutor. I remember him drawing scribbly little pencil sketches on the margins of the book to comprehend me better the passages).
At the British Council, I read about and studied the photographs of great actors like Olivier, Giegind and Orson Wells as Macbeth and then saw different film versions of the play. The beautiful black and white production of Orsan Wells, Roman Polanski's version that exploited the idea of cruelty and fantastic Japanese adaptation 'Throne of blood' by Kurosawa, all of which filled my mind with a host of ideas for an oriented dance version of Macbeth.
In my ballet, I brought about a few changes. I added some new characters and omitted some of the original characters, as appropriate for my concept and style. I deliberately disregarded the importance of Macbeth and brought in a new character - the subconscious of Lady Macbeth. The dagger ("is this a dagger which I see before me?") became a dancer who would appear in every crucial moment of the ballet.
The purpose of the ballet is not only to tell stories. The story line is a mere excuse to create effective and dramatic chorography and bring out the emotions and feelings of the characters involved. So that, the dance plays the most important role; enhanced by music and the allied arts; the costumes, decor, make up and lights.
Music is the most important component in a ballet next to dance. The score provides the bed for chorography. It sets the mood for characters to bring out their emotions. The chorographer must be through with the score of a ballet from A to Z. He must know the musical phrasings well, and must be acquainted with the rhythms and the beats of his score. It is the music that takes the ballet forth as an unbroken chain of chorography. The chorographer can follow the music or at times willingly move against it.
I think, Pradeep Ratnayaka wrote a very powerful music score for Macbeth. Pradeep and I have been playing music together for quite some time. I always admired Pradeep's music for it's obvious classicism. I wanted the music to sound classical and symphonic, so that I told him not to use the Sitar (which is his instrument) in score. The few portious of drums and percussions gave it the necessary oriental sound (specially the use of the country drum for witches).
The style - I wanted to make Macbeth a visually very oriental ballet. Therefore, I designed some elaborate costumes inspired by Low Country dance costumes. The make up was mask-like and borrowed much of it’s shapes from Kathakali.
My chorography was free in expression and mixed the extended Kandyan, Low Country and Kathakali with free movements, as appreciat for moods and situations. The prologue and epilog feature a modern day army officer in full uniform connected the ballet to the present day.
The decor with dark, stone shapes and the cave created gloomy and mystic atmosphere. The three daggers that stood upright amidst the bushes were symbolic and effective. Some of the chorographic images came from the films, mainly that of Kurosawa (such as, Lady Macbeth removing the blood stains from hands and repeating the same act in the mad scene before her death).
The ballet was a big critical success. I got many praiseful reviews. Many were curious to see how I have translated a work that involves wordplay in to a wordless medium of music, dance and mime. Ruwani Jayawardana wrote “… plainly speaking Vidyapathy has achieved his goals.” Shymali Thudave wrote “ Ravibandhu’s wife Samanthi as Lady Macbeth stole the show, … and the ballet took us to the times of Chithrasena’s Karadiya and Nala Damayanthi".
Sama is not the kind of strong and cruel lady Macbeth, but, more of the kind that "looks like the innocent flower but being the serpent under it”. I actually translated such ideas directly in to a gesture language.
Macbeth provides some fantastic ingredients for a ballet. Witches, “the imperfect speakers” merge beautifully in to the mystic world of the Low Country dance. I, a completely dramatic dancer (according to Guru Chithrasena), have always wanted to dance those highly dramatic (and tragic) soles like, Othello, Macbeth, and Hamlet, so that I could use a little bit of ‘ham acting’ in my dance portrayals.
“My name is Macbeth!”