A poignant drama, which depends not on the spoken word but uses mime, dance and body language
Uses a pure dance format as a vehicle for his ideas
He has taken no major liberties with the original legend
"Sri Lankans are more familiar with the traditional nadagama and its post-1956 version"
Nilan Maligaspe’s Sinha Ballet is a new interpretation of a familiar legend and should not be seen as a re-working of Ediriweera Sarchchandra’s Sinhabahu. Nilan uses a pure dance format as a vehicle for his ideas, with neither song nor spoken word, with changes of scenery and mood conveyed by lighting and an occasional projection instead of elaborate stage sets. It is both innovative and mentally stimulating.
He has taken no major liberties with the original legend which we are familiar with but gives it a new twist. Instead of a lion, we see a man. The king of Vagu and his queen Mayawathi are told that their only daughter Suppadevi would fall in love with a lion and beget children by him. Though they do their best to prevent this from happening, their worst fears come true and the two children of Suppadevi are named Sinhabahu and Sinhaseevali.
Sinhabahu eventually escapes from his lion father, taking his mother and sister with him. When the enraged lion begins devastating the countryside in revenge, the son confronts the father and kills him.
Whereas Sarachchandra took this story literally and gave it dramatic form, Nilan attempts to see the genesis of this spectacular folklore.
"Ballet is little understood in this country. The nadagama style adapted and further developed by Dr. Sarachchandra is remote from the techniques and modern perspectives of modern ballet, where body language is supreme"
He gives Sinhabahu a human form and avoids the use of lion masks till the very end when Sinhabahu appears with the bloodied head of his father, Sinha, who may have been a feared tribal leader.
The result is a poignant drama, which depends not on the spoken word but uses mime, dance and body language to achieve its end. Nilan Maligaspe is a hard-working choreographer, who has produced seventeen ballets since his debut production in 1998. This is his 18th.
As an artist, his dedication to his art is unquestionable and goes beyond the average artist’s involvement. Apart from training his young protégés in the intricacies of expressing a range of emotions through body language, he plans and executes everything to the minutest detail, from scriptwriting to directing, choreography, stage; lighting and costume design to even doing the laundry of his ensemble himself to save money. Recognition has come, both here and abroad. But it’s light from a jeweller’s lamp in the country’s whirlpool of art.
Ballet is little understood in this country. The nadagama style adapted and further developed by Dr Sarachchandra is remote from the techniques and modern perspectives of modern ballet, where body language is supreme.
Sri Lankans are more familiar with the traditional nadagama and its post-1956 version than with the more versatile modern ballet. Even though the country holds State Ballet Festivals, even the theatre-going public, remain largely unaware of what is seen as an esoteric, fringe cultural activity.
It takes an unusual degree of perseverance to perform so consistently in that context, and Nilan Maligaspe is a maverick, who has blazed his own stylistically individual path. He has been ably supported by a closely-knit team. The music for his ballets, as in this instance, is composed by Sanjeeva Paranamana, a faithful friend.
His youthful dancers, some of whom come from troubled family backgrounds, are loyal to him. That in itself is a feat in a sphere where ego conflicts are common and relationships volatile.
Though Nilan himself has played the Sinha role earlier, this time it was performed by Madushan Sabaragamuge. Suppadevi was played by Nipuni Jayasinghe and Sinhabahu and Sinhaseevali were played by Tharuka Jayaweera and Chamitha Weerabahu respectively. Their roles as children were played by Anshupathi Perera and Divyanjali Abeywickrama, and the maid was played by Chamitha Weerabahu and the carter was played by Anurudda Rathnayake. Pethum Weerasinghe assisted with the script and production.