Namel and Malini Weeramuni broke new ground when they whipped up a delightful and unique theatre that would become an oasis of arts in the commercial hub of Borella. 15 years later they have sprung another fresh surprise. This time they present a very rich slice of our culture on stage. It is a cross section of the most unique, exotic components of Sri Lankan folk culture – compressed into a one-hour show.
It was initially Malini’s idea to organise a cultural show that would feature the best of our traditional arts. Coordinating with Professor Ariyarathna Kaluarachchi, Vice Chancellor of the University of Visual and Performing Arts, and Senior Lecturer Mahinda Wimalasiri, Namel and Malini have curated a collection of beautiful jewels.
The Weeramunis were propelled in this direction by the vacuum left by the absence of a proper show of this kind. Since Namel was keen to retain as much authenticity as possible, turning to the University of Visual and Performing Arts was natural. The students there are the inheritors of a tradition that strives to live on. Altogether 30 undergraduates and lecturers come together to resuscitate our heritage arts.
The cultural show, comprising ten performances of dance and music, starts with a solemn ‘pooja’ dance to evoke the blessings of the Triple Gem and local deities. It is a mix of many dance forms; upcountry, lowcountry and Sabaragamuwa as well as Indian dance. Then there is the ‘Ves’ Dance, an elaborate magical ritual, a part of Kandyan dance. Thelme is a dance in honour of the goddess of chastity Pattini or Amman.
The Peacock Dance emulates the grace and beauty of the peacock, with the vibrant, dazzling colours and lithe footsteps adding glamour to the performance. Then there is the Salupaliya, a humourous dance where a hairy demon is subjected to sarcasm and ridicule for the entertainment of the audience.
A piece, which transports the viewer to the heart of a traditional village is the Harvesting Dance where the cutting and collecting of paddy is set to music. Naga Raksha and Gurulu Raksha are beautiful, majestic masked performances. The show is water on parched earth for tourists. In one hour, in quick sequence, and in Colombo, they are able to witness the astounding, unique essence of our millennia-old culture. Children get a chance to learn their own heritage. The inaugural show alone has drawn comments that have gratified Namel and Malini beyond expectations. Representatives from the tourism industry have been struck by the brilliance of the entire performance. The traditions, the colour, the folklore, the myths, the vigour, the grace and the dynamism: they blend to create a show of a kind unseen before.
The cultural programme is being staged at the Namel Malini Punchi Theatre from 4.30pm to 5.30pm every Thursday. Tickets are priced at 2000 rupees and can be obtained at the theatre.