Vajira: a dance of a life
Sri Lanka’s prima ballerina, Vajira Chitrasena, 89 now, was conferred the Padma Shri one of India’s highest civilian honours on November 17. The award was in recognition of her unique contributions to enriching Indo-Sri Lanka relations through the promotion of dance and blending the art forms of both countries. On behalf of the Indian President, Vajira was presented the award by the High Commissioner of India in Sri Lanka, Gopal Baglay at a special Temple Trees ceremony at which Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa was present.
Padma Shriin Sanskrit translates into ‘Noble one in Blossom.’
We celebrate the ‘Noble one of Sri Lanka’s dance’ through the eyes of generations of ‘Chitrasena women’ who keep her trailblazing tradition alive.
BY RANDIMA ATTYGALLE
‘Balletomanes who see the second program of the Chitrasena Ballet, which was presented at the Elizabethan Theatre last night will receive a shock, for there they will find the original of their beloved classical-romantic ballet ‘Swan Lake’. The various pas de deux, performed by Vajira as the Chief Swan and Wimal, as the noble King Nala, leave, it must be confessed, our ‘Swan Lake’ sadly lacking in imagination and understanding. This critic has not seen in ‘western’ ballet mime, acting and dancing, capable of evoking in nature and spirit of the swan, to compare with the performance of Vajira in this role,’ wrote Roland Robinson in The Sydney Morning Herald of February 16, 1963.
Be it the swan that connived to bring Nala and Damayanthi together or Maya in Chandalika or exploited Sisi in Karadiya, Vajira Chitrasena stole the show. The thunderous applause she received across the seas was an index that she had arrived earning a trademark for the ‘feminine’ Kandyan dance form.
The 15-year-old Vajira who was enrolled in Chitrasena’s dancing class by her mother would run away only to be dragged back by her mother who used to sew the costumes designed by Somabandu for Chitrasena productions. Vajira would once recollect in an interview with this writer: “I was mischievous and was least interested in pursuing dancing seriously and it was Chitrasena who made me think seriously about being a professional dancer.”
A match made in heaven for the dance, the Chitrasena-Vajira union mutually pushed the golden couple of Sri Lankan dance to greater heights. Since her debut through Pageant of Lanka in 1948 until her swan song Chandalika in 1996, with every step Vajira not only emerged a brand name and a cultural ambassador for Sri Lanka but also opened a career path for Sri Lankan women. Interestingly, many male dancers who have made a name for themselves today were also mentored by her. Although there were dancers such as Chandralekha before her, it was Vajira who broke away from the tradition of women donning the male costume on stage and introduced the fluidity and grace that made the female dance feminine.
Although traditionally a male dance tradition, Kandyan dance still enables liberty to evolve one’s own style, says Upeka Chitrasena, eldest daughter of Vajira. “My mother was never inhibited from jumping as high as my father did in her Kandyan dance performances. Although I danced behind them, (along with sister Anjalika) and later did all roles amma once did, I never copied my mother but evolved my own style to suit my personality. My parents never put us into a mould but gave us independence to carve a niche for ourselves.”
Upeka who is today a much sought teacher herself, candidly admits that although she follows her mother as a hard task master and strict disciplinarian, she cannot match her mother’s patience. “Amma could make anybody dance; such was her spirit. She simply would not give up. I don’t think I have that kind of perseverance,” she smiles.
Transformation came naturally to Vajira. She never had to “strive hard to adapt to new roles,” as she put it. By the time Karadiya hit the boards, Vajira was a seasoned dancer. She was also a teacher of dancing at Methodist College, Colombo by then. Starting with small scale ballets such as Kumudini and Nirasha, Vajira’s repertoire as a choreographer expanded with longer ballets such as Himakumari, Sepalika and Kindurangana. Together with Chitrasena, the couple created Kinkini Kolama for daughter Upeka.
Vajira was avant-garde in every sense. While creating avenues for the female dancer in this country at a time when there were no role models, she played multiple roles of the dancer, the choreographer and guru – passing the baton to her daughters and now her granddaughters. Far from being the traditional wife and mother, Vajira danced everyday along with Chitrasena. Upeka recollects her parents creating, rehearsing and traveling all the time when they were young. “I danced every day of my life and at the same time I was there for my three children. They admired their parents on stage, a unique opportunity for any child, and it is their judgment of what the two of us did that mattered most,” Vajira would once recollect.
From the 1940s, ever since Chitrasena and Vajira started creating their own genre together, the entire family along with their golayas have been in rehearsal. For them it will continue to be a journey of experimenting and discovering the possibilities of a ‘movement-language’ like no other notwithstanding the pandemic. “These are frustrating times for all of us and this honour from India comes as breath of fresh air and hope,” says Upeka who is overwhelmed by the messages of love and affection that have been pouring in from all corners of the world since the award was announced.
The Chitrasena family is no stranger to India. The connection dates back to patriarch Chitrasena given further impetus by Vajira and later by Upeka (through her association with Nrityagram- India’s first modern Gurukul for Indian classical dances) and now cemented further by the third generation that steers the Chitrasena Dance Company. Samhara where the Chitrasenas collaborated with the Odissi dancers of Nrityagram Dance Ensemble from Bangalore was a critical turning point for the ‘younger dancer company’ led by Vajira’s granddaughter Thaji (Thajithangani Dias- daughter of Anudatta). Samhara as they reflect enabled them to take traditional Kandyan dance to newer heights.
Vajira’s younger daughter Anjalika Chitrasena (Melvani), a dancer and a teacher herself, finds her mother’s indomitable strength as a woman of many roles to be the heartbeat of their dance school to date. “She led by example and whatever she created, she did through her own experiences; she was constantly watching, reading, absorbing and creating new things all the time.” Her brother Anudatta was only three months old when her parents went on their first tour to Russia in 1957, recollects Anjalika. “She was still lactating but she continued to do what she had to do – dance. That was the kind of strong woman she was.”
Creating magic was inevitable with her mother as the choreographer and her father as the Artistic Director, says Anjalika. “My father was a very dominant and difficult person, yet she respected him for all that he was; her Guru, her mentor and partner in crime! My father used to call her the blotting paper absorbing all he said and did – that’s how well she understood him.”
Vajira’s humility is exemplary says her daughter. “She treated all her dancers like her own children, looked after them, fed them and mentored them. My mother gave her life to the arts without expectation and she continues to do that.”
Heshma Wignaraja, Artistic Director of the Chitrasena Dance Company and daughter of Anjalika, is grateful that India has recognized the efforts of her grandmother whose career spanning over 70 years is one that is dedicated purely to the dance. “She learnt from the best and built a lifelong partnership with her Guru, Chitrasena, who initiated and established a very rich connection with India for our dance and our family. It is with his support and blessings that she blazed a new trail for all female dancers in this country- setting world standards in performing, teaching, creating and collaborating. And it must be so satisfying for her to receive this honour at nearly 90-years of age.”
Since the pandemic, a lot has changed for all performing artistes compelling them to deal with a new set of challenges says Heshma. “The ties we have with Nrityagram however, have taken deep roots. So we will somehow find ways to continue working together. We are waiting impatiently for the next meeting.”
Growing up watching her achchi has had the biggest impact on Heshma. An all-rounder, an unassuming prima ballerina, she was like a “magnet of sorts,” Heshma says. “Her approach to creating was the most simple and honest but her work ethic was relentless and therefore everything she did or touched truly turned into gold! I look forward to continue working with her.”
Being born into a family of exceptional artistes who have set high standards, has pushed her to set the bar higher for the next generations to follow, says Thaji. Her grandmother’s discipline both on and off stage inspire the principal dancer of the Company that she is today. Says Thaji: “Be it technique, stage discipline, looking after your costumes, etc. achchi always led by example. Her discipline as a dancer on stage is something I have imbibed but her discipline off stage is something I have to continue to work on and of course even today she as a grandmother continues to have a watchful eye over my off-stage discipline!” she smiles.
Vajira’s attention to detail and ‘never say die’ attitude makes her a wonder says granddaughter Umi (Umadanthi) Dias who administers the Kalayathanaya. “Looking back today, I know that whatever I have grasped from my grandmother unconsciously comes into play spontaneously and helps me immensely to deal with the work I do at the Kalayathanaya.”
Sharing her legendary grandmother’s flipside, Umi says that she is a master seamstress. “Even now at almost 90 years, we still go to achchi with all our alterations. She turns out wonderful clothing for my kids with little pieces of leftover fabric. And of course there is her love for exercise and keeping her body fine tuned. She will never take a break from her daily exercise routine even when we go on holiday.”
Vajira is a blissful great grandmother of four and Umi says that her love for all of them is boundless.
A role model for generations of women, Vajira Chitrasena never clamoured or sought personal glory. In her own words, “it just came my way and I accepted it neutrally.” What success is to this queen of the dance is reflected in the words of the famed Russian dancer Anna Pavlova: ‘to follow without halt, one aim; there is the secret of success. And success? I do not find it in the applause of the theatre. It lies rather in the satisfaction of accomplishment.’
(Photo credit: Chitrasena family archives, Luxshman Nadaraja, Sujatha Jayarathna & Indian High Commission in SL)
ICC arrest warrant; a setback for authoritarian rule
As should be expected, the arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Russian President Vladimir Putin on war crimes allegations has given rise to a widespread debate on how effective it would be as an instrument of justice. What compounds the issue is the fact that Russia is not obliged to cooperate with the ICC, given that it is not a signatory to the Rome Statute which outlaws the crimes in question and envisages punitive action for signatory state representatives who act in violation of its provisions.
Predictably, the Russian side has rubbished the ICC allegations and its arrest warrant on the basis that they are totally irrelevant to Russia, considering that it does not recognize the ICC or its rulings. However, the fact remains that important sections of the international community would be viewing Putin and his regime as war criminals who should be shunned and outlawed.
The possibility is great of the Putin regime steadily alienating itself from enlightened opinion the world over from now on. In other words, Putin and his cohorts have incurred a heavy moral defeat as a consequence of the ICC’s arrest warrant and its strictures.
Morality may not count much for the Putin regime and its supporters, locally and internationally, but the long term consequences growing out of this dismissive stance on moral standards could be grave. They would need to take their minds back to the white supremacist regimes of South Africa of decades past which were relentlessly outlawed by the world community, incurring in the process wide-ranging sanctions that steadily weakened apartheid South Africa and forced it to negotiate with its opponents. Moreover, the ICC measures against Putin are bound to strengthen his opponents and critics at home, thereby boosting Russia’s pro-democracy movement.
However, the Putin administration could earn for itself some ‘breathing space’ at present by proving the ICC’s allegations wrong. That is, it would need to establish beyond doubt that it is not guilty of the crime of deporting Ukrainian children to Russia and other war-linked offences. It could liaise with UNICEF and other relevant UN agencies for this purpose since it does not recognize the ICC.
A wise course of action for President Putin would be to pick up this gauntlet rather than ignore the grave allegations levelled against him, in view of the long term consequences of such evasive behavior.
Besides, the Russian President would need to restrict his movements from now on. For, he is liable to be arrested and produced before the ICC by those governmental authorities who are signatories to the Rome Statute in the event of Putin entering their countries. That is, Putin’s head is likely to be increasingly restless as time goes by.
However, the gravest consequence flowing from Putin and his regime ignoring the ICC and its strictures is that later, if not sooner, they could find themselves being hauled up before the ICC. There is ample evidence from recent history that this could be so. All the alleged offenders need to do is take their minds back to the convulsive and bloody Balkan wars of the nineties to see for themselves how the ICC process, though slow and laborious, finally delivered justice to the victims of war crimes in that tempestuous theatre.
All those war criminals who have lulled themselves into believing that it is possible to escape being brought to justice before the world’s tribunals, need to recollect how former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevik and his partners in crime Rodovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic were brought before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in the early years of this century and required to pay the price for their criminality. So confident were they initially that they would never be brought to justice that they agreed, tongue-in-cheek, to fully cooperate with the ICTY.
It is pertinent to also remember that the criminals mentioned were notorious for their ‘ethnic cleansing’ operations and other war-time excesses. Accordingly, those accused of war crimes the world over would be only indulging in wishful thinking if they consider themselves above the law and safe from being held accountable for their offences. Justice would catch-up with them; if not sooner, then later. This is the singular lesson from Bosnia.
Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping has considered it timely to call on President Putin in Russia. He did so close on the heels of being elected President for a third straight term recently. This is a clear message to the world that Russia could always depend on China to be a close and trusted ally. It is a question of two of the biggest authoritarian states uniting. And the world they see as big enough for both of them.
Interestingly, China is having the world believe that it has a peace plan for Ukraine. While in Russia, though, XI did not spell out in any detail how the crisis in Ukraine would be resolved with China’s assistance. However, China has drafted what is termed its ‘Position on the Ukraine Crisis’. It contains 12 points which are more in the nature of a set of principles.
Seen against the backdrop of the developments in Ukraine, some of these principles merit close scrutiny. For instance, the first principle lays out that the sovereignty of all countries must be respected. Besides, International Law must be universally recognized, including the ‘purposes and principles of the UN Charter’. However, ‘double standards’ must be rejected. Hopefully, the West got the hint.
Principle 4 has it that ‘Dialogue and negotiations are the only viable solution to the Ukraine crisis.’ Principle 8 points out that, ‘Nuclear weapons must not be used and nuclear wars must not be fought’.
Needless to say, all the above principles are acceptable to the international community. What is required of China is to evolve a peace plan for Ukraine, based on these principles, if it is in earnest when it speaks of being a peace maker. The onus is on China to prove its credibility.
However, China could be said to be characteristically pragmatic in making these moves. While further cementing its alliance with Russia, China is placing the latter on notice, though in a subtle way, that its war in Ukraine is proving highly counter-productive and costly, both for the states concerned and the world. The costly economic consequences for the world from the war speak for themselves. Accordingly, nudging Russia in the direction of a negotiated settlement is the wisest course in the circumstances.
In the limelight again…Miss Super Model Globe 2020
Those who are familiar with the fashion and beauty pageant setup, in Sri Lanka, would certainly remember Shashi Kaluarachchi.
Three years ago, she was crowned Miss Super Model Globe Sri Lanka 2020 and then represented Sri Lanka at the Miss Super Model Globe International, held in India.
Shashi won two titles at this big event; she was placed second in the finals (1st Runner-up) and took the title of Best National Costume.
Very active in the modelling scene, in the not too distant past, Shashi went silent, after dazzling the audience at the Super Model Globe contest.
Obviously, those who are aware of her talents were kept guessing, and many were wondering whether she had prematurely quit the fashion scene!
Not quite so…and I had a surprise call from Shashi to say that she is ready to do it again.
The silence is due to the fact that she is now employed in Dubai and is concentrating on her office work.
“When I came to Dubai, I was new to this scene but now I do have some free time, coming my way, and I want to get back to what I love doing the most – modelling, fashion and beauty pageants,” she said.
Shashi indicated that she plans to participate in an upcoming beauty pageant, to be held in Dubai, and also do some fashion shoots, and modelling assignments.
“Dubai is now buzzing with excitement and I want to be a part of that scene, as well,” said Shashi, who had her early beginnings, as a model, at the Walk with Brian Kerkoven modelling academy.
“I owe my success to Brian. He made me what I’m today – a top model.”
Shashi, who 5’7″ tall, says she loves wearing the sari for all important occasions.
“The sari is so elegant, so graceful, and, I believe, my height, and figure, does justice to a sari,”
Shashi has plans to visit Sri Lanka, in April, for a short vacation, adding that if the opportunity comes her way, she would love to do some photo shoots, and a walk on the ramp, as well.
* Shorter Showers
If you have dry skin, do not take long showers, or baths. Staying in the water for a longer time can dry it out more. You should also use warm, instead of hot, water, when you wash. Hot water can strip your skin of the fatty substances that give it hydration. As soon as you finish cleansing yourself, apply a body lotion, all over your body, to moisturize. Don’t wash yourself more than once a day
Applying a daily moisturizer can do wonders for dry skin, and there are products in your kitchen you can use which are natural and effective. Try coconut oil, olive oil, almond oil, or sunflower seed oil
Olive oil and brown sugar have amazing properties for the skin. Both of these substances deeply hydrate. Olive oil is also a known wound-healer, while sugar contains glycolic acid, which allows it to have anti-aging. You can make a natural scrub, using these ingredients which can be as good as the best anti-wrinkle creams.
* Mix one tablespoon of brown sugar with a teaspoon of olive oil.
* Blend them, and spread the mixture on your face, and neck, using a circular motion, for a few minutes.
* Then leave it to sit for another couple of minutes, and wash it off with warm water.
You can do this twice a week for amazing results
Taking care of your lips is important. Lips can also get dry and chapped, which is why you need to keep them hydrated, daily. If you’re looking for a natural balm, try sugar and lemon, or honey, sugar, and butter.
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