Sweet memories | Sunday Observer

Sweet memories

Manel Boteju (third from left) with a few members of the State Dance troupe in the early ’70s
Manel Boteju (third from left) with a few members of the State Dance troupe in the early ’70s

Dance was what gave her life and sustained her. As a child, love for dancing won her awards at school. As a young woman it won her fame, with major roles in key national productions. Now, as a senior citizen it brings accolades for her contribution to performing arts.

It was just recently that she received yet another award for her contribution to society through performing arts. Manel Damayanthi Boteju was one of the “Vishwabhi Nandana” awardees of the Western Provincial Council last month.

She is a busy grandmother now.

She enjoys life with her son, two daughters and their families at her residence down Elvitigala Mawatha, Colombo 5, says Boteju.

However, she takes pleasure in bringing joy to the lives of other senior citizens mobilizing them to do song, dance and drama productions. The artiste Manel Boteju at 75 seems as agile as a deer with her quick steps and reflexes as well as the confidence and determination with which she sets to carry out her tasks.

What is the secret behind the health she radiates and the joy she brings to the life of others? None but dancing is the quick reply.

It was in 2013 that she got herself involved in mobilising senior citizens, says Boteju. “As a social service project I helped the senior citizens association at Henawatte, Godagama to organise a concert presenting songs, dances and dramas by them.” The success of the event had got her involved with the community where she resides, the Senior Citizens Council at Thimbirigasyaya, Colombo 5 during the years 2016 and 2017. There she had carried out two productions, a ballet named Kethaka Siriya and a Bakthi Gee presentation to mark Poson Full Moon day.

She enjoyed every minute, of her long walk in performing arts, says Boteju. “As a young girl at Harvard Girls’ School in Colombo dance was my whole world.” Acknowledging and supporting her love for dance, her parents had facilitated developing her skills at Hela Kala Pila a school of arts conducted by artiste Wimal P. Abeysiri.

“There I had the opportunity to follow many Sri Lankan schools of dance, mainly Kandyan dancing style from maestros such as, Imbulgoda Master, Vimal Ahugoda and Kiri Ganitha Gurunnanse, who were then the heads of traditional dance,” said Boteju.

Later, she studied Kathakali dance from, a certified Kathakali Dance Master attached to the then Keralite Art Council, G.B. Vimalanatha Boteju, who later became her husband.

Manel Boteju’s golden era of dance was in the 1970s. She played the main role in many Sri Lankan ballet performances at special national events and travelled to many countries as a member of the State Dance Troupe of the Cultural Ministry, promoting Sri Lankan dance. “It was a privilege. Must say I’m still awed by some of those experiences,” says Boteju, reminiscing her role in the ballet ‘Mahaweli’ which the first woman Prime Minister in the country had chosen to grace the stage at the independence day celebrations in 1970.

“I had to depict the role of the river Mahaweli. Though it was no easy task, it was one of my sweetest memories of dancing.”

Many such memories are etched in her mind, including the main role in ‘Janavegaya’ the ballet staged at the opening of the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall (BMICH) in 1973.

It was part of the cultural pageant held in honour of all those people who worked tirelessly to make the building project a success. Workers from both Sri Lanka and China were honoured that day. At Janavegaya she played the role of Mother Lanka, says Boteju.

So is the presentation of the ballet Sigiri Gee to entertain the delegates of the 5th Non-Aligned Summit held at the BMICH in 1978. ‘I think, more than 60 countries participated at that Summit.

It was the role of the queen of King Kassyapa, which I played,’ says Boteju.

It was during this time that she toured many countries including India, Pakistan and Russia as a member of the State Dance Troupe. She was also employed at St. Lawrence Girls’ School, Wellawatte as a teacher.

Boteju and her students at St. Lawrence had produced a ballet Hansa Vila and many cultural displays and festivals during her 34 years of service in the school, till her retirement in 2005. Further, together with her husband Vimalanatha Boteju she had established a school of arts named Sri Damayanthi Kala Rangapeetaya. The school specialises in Kandyan and Kathakali dance, says Boteju.

“With her students at Sri Damayanthi, she had produced many dance presentations for the public. ‘We were selected to present dances at the independence day celebrations and at many other events of national importance,” said Boteju. Most of their presentations had been broadcast through television as well.

It was for these contributions towards the development of dance and ballet in Sri Lanka that she was awarded many a time.

Besides the latest honour from the Western Provincial Council, Boteju had received the Rangabhimani award from the Ministry of Cultural Affairs in 2005, the Sahithyabhivandana award from the Colombo District Commissioner of Cultural Affairs in 2008 and the national Kala Bhusana award in 2009.