You make me feel like Dancing | Sunday Observer

You make me feel like Dancing

nATANDA is a contemporary dance group which in 2015 established nATFEST, the annual international contemporary dance festival in Sri Lanka. nATFEST is a festival that creates a space and stage for all cultures, ethnic and minority groups of diverse nationalities. Kapila Palihawadana the founder, director and curator of nATFEST took time off to give Young Voice a preview of his dance troupe.

 What is nATFEST about?

It is the only Sri Lankan Contemporary International Dance Festival and is organised by nATANDA. We did this for the fourth time this year, joining hands with the Nan Jombang Dance Company, Indonesia. The whole idea of this festival was to bring young talent into dancing by combining Western contemporary techniques into the traditional Sri Lankan style. The combination creates very interesting and unique dance forms.

Talking about nATANDA, how did you lay the foundation to this journey?

I started in a very small way in 2002. In 2004, I went to Germany for my higher studies. I studied modern and contemporary dance there. In 2005 I came back to my country with the idea of developing my dancing to a professional level. Then, I wanted to teach my people what I learnt. We’ve been working for fifteen years and now nATANDA has come to a certain level, when people talk about contemporary dance. We are the pioneering contemporary dancers in Sri Lanka.

When did you realise that you must be a professional in dancing?

When I was a kid I did Kandyan, low country, Sabaragamuwa and Bharatha dances and I did fusions of them too. But at a certain point I felt like they were not the types that made me express myself. I have a different language in doing things. I was looking for something different, not just the particular types that we already know. I realised that dancing is in my blood. It is just like a living, breathing thing to me and that there is no point in talking about anything else other than dancing.

How many dancers are there in your troupe?

Our main company has about twelve dancers. They dedicate almost all their time to dancing. Some of my dancers first had issues with their families for choosing this career path. Without giving up, they stood firm in their decisions. Now they have become internationally recognised artistes representing Sri Lanka.

They work from morning till evening on their personal development and I’m really proud that I have people who just want to continue their lives as professional dancers.

Some of my dancers have been previously university students, actors and models and have joined me, giving up other bonds just because of their passion for dancing. We send our dancers abroad to get some good exposure.

Those governments are very supportive of contemporary dance. Usually what happens is that people do other jobs, they suddenly go to some events and they start to dance. They don’t even maintain their bodies, then it becomes a joke.

Is there a special criteria when selecting people for your company?

Actually no. They have reached this level of mastery via practice and they did not have those figures when they first came.They have earned everything they have now, with much dedication. When it comes to criteria, I would say, my criteria would be discipline, commitment, passion, continuation and the sustainability of your thought process to be on track.

How much of time do they need to reach professional level?

We don’t do a performance after just three or four hours of practice. We don’t practice in the morning and perform in the evening. Our dancers do 1250 hours of practice to do a one-hour performance. We work one year on one production. It takes six months for a boy to lift a girl up because it’s all about trust and commitment. That’s why our quality is international.

‘Ravens’ was internationally awarded. What’s it all about?

‘Ravens’ is a dance production choreographed by me. It examines our perception of the ‘crow’. This production makes the audience see the ‘crow’ beyond the established ‘bad’ bird impression and is shown in dynamic feathers traced in cobalt, lavender, silver and midnight blue. ‘Ravens’ is a portrayal of our messy lives that find new ways to survive, struggling to coexist and having conflicts with each other.

Who were your helpers and supporters of the festival?

We had the festival at the British School Auditorium last month. We got great sponsorship. If our sponsors weren’t there, we would not have been able to make nATFEST 2018 a success.

Are dancers given recognition and exposure in Sri Lanka?

In Sri Lanka, we actually have to struggle to earn recognition, because after 30 years of war, there are many other things to be developed in the country.

But in general, the support we are given as artistes is very poor when considering the value we deliver to culture and the economy of the country. My request to the stakeholders is, to have a look at our productions and make some great space for the existence of these artistes. Artistes protect and maintain our culture. In some countries, they organise dance festivals to attract tourists. The artistes are given a theatre to present their work. I see the value of it.

What’s unique about nATANDA?

We don’t do anything halfway. Our performances are not just about entertainment. We go deep into the subject and bring out different themes. One such theme is ‘slavery’. As a colonised country we know the mindset of being slaves and though we’re not conscious, we’re slaves to our art too.

Any words of inspiration?

We should respect our own values, help our own people and should push our talents forward. “Learn to value the things you have and then you can go a long way.”

Pix : Thilak Perera