Somewhere in the early nineties, I saw a painting by Chandraguptha Thenuwara, titled 'Death not foretold'(නොහැඟි මරණය). Thenu, after his training in Russia was experimenting with new forms and expressions while I was thinking of tackling contemporary themes in dance which was quite absent in our dance theater. His paintings had an academic style (To me Thenu is the best portrait painter after Stanley Abesinghe). The painting with it's browns, grays and blacks against the whites created an eerie feeling. The four figures leaning over the dead body were dance like and reminded a black clad chorus of a Greek play. I wanted to dance this painting and took it home to meditate over it.
- Chandraguptha Thenuwara's painting titled 'Death not foretold'(නොහැඟි මරණය) -
In 1996, I was touring America with Upeka frequenting the ballet shops, music shops and book shops. I was looking for music by Mikis Theodorakis and found an album titled symphony No 3/ For the young killed in wars. With the first listening, I wanted to dance that music (To 'dance a music' is different from ' dancing to a music'). The music was based on poem by Dionysios Solomos (The Greek poet, one of whose poems was selected as the national anthem of Greece). The composition creates a haunting effect with it's first combination of notes, played on the strings and so were the first lines of the poem.
"In a grave yard
two Cyprus trees are standing brotherly
when at midnight when the winds come howling down ...
... you saw them how they flutter ...."
About the same time, I came across some paper cutting that my father had collected (He had the habit of collecting articles of magazines and newspapers from arts to current affairs or any subject that interested him and flipped through them time to time and showed us what he thought was relevant) with some images of weeping women, those war tormented souls whose siblings either killed or disappeared during the war. Those pictures moved me a lot.
The result was a dance piece called 'For the young killed in wars' (which I like to call a ballet-let, a short ballet) set to Theodorakis's music (I did not cut and chop the score, but, used a section of it as it was). A story was created by itself as I interpreted the music it's mood in dance. Some characters were taken from Dionysios's poem such as the mother in black, the two poor brothers and the brotherly trees. Then I added a corps de ballet of six female dancers and called them the weepers.The Only other character is a dead body of a child (Jith's first stage appearance at age four).
Samanthi was the anchor point of the whole ballet in the tittle role of mother in black. Her dramatic portrayal of the character with deep emotions, graceful yet heavy moments, perfect body lines and artistic poses carried the ballet to great heights. Her very controlled performance (without being melodramatic) reminded me of Guru Vajira Chithrasena's last dance in Ballet Karadiaya. Definitely, Sama is a true pupil of her Guru.
Apart from Thenu's painting, there were some other images that inspired me during the process (course) of choreographing the ballet. One was a drawing by my father that featured a lamenting mother carrying a dead child. The drawing in stark black lines with the mother and a cluster of other figures was composed in highly dramatic expression, almost a choreographed scene, obviously the predominant feature of Somabandhu's work. The other was 'Pattiini Hella', a traditional poem whose poetic rendering of the curse of Pattini over the death of her innocent husband that provided me with strong danceable images (Though the context of the latter is different, it's metaphor suited my chorographic ideas).
The ballet begins with the spirits of the two poor dead brothers, while the mother in black wanders through an array of choreographic happenings and ends with a powerful signing (in dance) by the weepers against cruelty, war, power, exploitation and (death) killing !
With this ballet, I roamed through the repercussions of our civil war. Perhaps, I was (I may be wrong?) the only dancer to address the issue of war in a serious dance work, while visual arts, films, poetry, songs and fictions produced in bulks in that theme. Dance, they think is there only to make people happy - not sad!