Traditional art with modernity | Sunday Observer

Traditional art with modernity

15 December, 2019

Celebrating his 60th birth year, Ravibandu Vidyapathi, a dancer, choreographer, leader of the famed Ravibandu drums ensemble is ready to bring back a series of artistic endeavours this December.

Being the elder son of an iconic multifaceted artist duo, Somabandu Vidyapathi and Malathi Algama, Ravibandu has been dancing since his early teenage years under the patronage of his gurus Chithrasena and Vajira, the forefathers of Sri Lankan ballet and also long-time friends and colleagues of his parents.

Although he has been the quiet and reserved child in the family, Ravibandu’s artistic inquisitiveness has been righteously acknowledged by his father at his very young age, and being a great teacher he determined to share his knowledge of aesthetics with his children generously. Today Ravibandu continues his father’s legacy, filling the vacuum left by his father in the sphere of Sri Lankan traditional art.

He has performed all over the world and most remarkably at the Kennedy Center Washington in 2008. Also he has shared the stage with world renowned musicians such as, Trilok Gurtu, Bill Cobham and Zakir Hussain. Besides being a perfect traditional dancer, Ravibandu Drums Ensemble is one of the finest drum ensembles in the country. His drums ensemble appeared at festivals such as WOMAD in Australia, Kauffman Concert Hall, New York, Asia Festival in Nagoya, Japan, in UK, Singapore and many others. The magic behind the faultless technique in his performances could be this rare combination of the dancer and drummer who is in one body. His immense commitment, determination and love for traditional art in the country have paved the way to lift him to the highest level of Sri Lankan traditional dancing, choreographing and drumming.

Bringing the world renowned classical ballet, ‘Rite of Spring’ back on stage today (15), at the Panibaratha Hall of Visual and Performing Arts University at 6.30pm, Ravibandu marks his originality once again by mixing the original music score of a classical ballet to tell his own local story.

‘Rite of Spring’ is a ballet inspired by the world renowned original Russian ballet under the same name ‘Rite of Spring’, which was an outcome of western modernist classical artistry, premiered way back in the 19th century. The music score of ‘Rite of Spring’ was composed by the great Russian composer Igor Stravinsky and this is the first time ever in history that an artist from another tertiary has acquired this world renowned masterpiece to tell his own local story.

Reaching into another important milestone in his personal life, Ravibandu Vidyapathi, speaking to the Sunday Observer said, he wants to celebrate his 60th birth year in style sharing the art that he involves in and appreciate with art lovers of the country. He recalls his guru Chithrasena also celebrating his birth years in a similar manner. “This brings a purpose and a new beginning to life,” Ravibandu said.

The story of ‘Rite of Spring’ is based on a ritualistic act in 19th century Russian tribal society where every year a virgin is sacrificed for the prosperity of the society. “I was also interested in using the original version of ‘Rite of Spring’ to create a similar type of work in Sri Lanka. However, I adopted the storyline according to our own traditions and gave a Sri Lankan flavour with a different interpretation,” Ravibandu said.

His ultimate intention is to develop a positive attitude towards dance in the future generation. However, it is a true notion that if any art is not contemporary it’s hard to attract audiences. Adopting a story from the 19th century into the 21st century is surely not easy. According to Ravibandu it isn’t impossible either. Elaborating the process of converting such a ballet into a contemporary subject he said his first inspiration came from a painting he saw in a gallery in Belarus.

“The painting depicts an era before the revolution, when poor farmers in Russia married off their daughters to wealthy old men for money. The dreadful life of those farmers and their victimised daughters have been carved in this painting.

Isn’t this contemporary? The same social issue is still prevalent in our society. This situation is most acute among the Tamil society in South India and also with the European peers. This is a common situation anywhere in the world. Therefore, I used the similar conflict in my ballet to discuss the socio-political discourse of the present moment through the conflict between tradition and modernity,” Ravibandu added.

Theatrical costumes and set design exhibition

The second feature of the series of artistic endeavour is an exhibition of Ravibandu’s creations and choreography, theatre costumes and stage designs, where Ravibandu’s and his father’s original set designs and theatrical costumes will be exhibited. Somabandu Vidyapathi’s hand written reasons behind the creations of theatrical costumes and stage settings will also be displayed to enhance the knowledge of the spectators.

Bringing them all in one exhibition, the opportunity has been given to spectators to explore the gradual evolution of theatrical costumes and stage set designing from Somabandu to Ravibandu.

Dance Film Festival

A famous dance film in the early ‘80s, ‘White Nights’ by Taylor Hackford and ‘White Crow’ by Ralph Fiennes (2018) will be screened at the National Film Corporation on December 23, at 3.30pm and 6.30pm respectively. The story of ‘White Nights’ is based on the life of the world’s greatest ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov and tap dancer Gregory Hines. ‘White Crow’ is the latest film screened this year worldwide and the first ever screening in Sri Lanka. ‘White Crow’ is about the revolutionary life of Rudolf Nureyev, one of the world’s greatest ballet dancers ever produced.

Although Dance film is a common and well received genre, especially, in Europe, here in Sri Lanka this genre has rarely been discussed.

Dharmasiri Bandaranayake’s ‘Bawa Duka’ and Dharmasena Pathiraja’s ‘Sakkaran’ can be categorized under the dance film genre. Organizing these two film screenings, Ravibandu hopes to open up a new dimension of film discussion in the country.

“Dance film has not been taken into serious consideration by filmmakers in the country. Besides, this genre is not even discussed. However, it is widely discussed and quite big in the world outside. Therefore, through this screenings I want to bring this unspoken genre to the forefront,” Ravibandu said.

Kohomba Kankariya

The final, yet, most festive event of this festival is the traditional, ritualistic performance ‘Kohomba Kankariya’ to be screened on December 28, at the Kotte Sri Rajamaha Viharaya. This historical ritualistic performance is by Ravibandu Vidyapathi and his students of the dance academy.

“I have spent almost five decades of my life as a traditional dancer, choreographer, drummer and teacher. I believe that it’s my utmost duty to present our heritage of traditional arts with modernity to the future generation of the country. That is the sole reason in hosting this series of arts festival and I hope this would be entertaining and an educational session as well for the audience,” Ravibandu added.

Ravibandu invites all who appreciate Sri Lankan traditional art to join him on his birthday month to celebrate and learn about the rich heritage of Sri Lankan traditional art.