I don’t know whether I’d call myself an introvert. In my daily life, I feel like I am. However, my profession made me second-guess my day-to-day persona—dancing on stage bursting with energy makes me happy. I think that’s who I actually am. From the time I was a little girl dancing was what I wanted to do. My family never forced me in any way and I organically became a part of it. It’s now the most significant part of my life.
During my grandparent’s time, the Chitrasena Dance Company was one of the only professional dance companies that existed in Colombo, so they got many performances on a daily basis. Now, there’s a huge demand for commercialized dance performances due to weddings and events,, which is acceptable. Personally, that is not the path I’d like to go down. In my opinion, I’m a more serious artist. Sure there’re certain financial difficulties. Hence I lead a very simple life, but I don’t compromise anything for my art form which is my lifeline. The way we’ve been nurtured, we give respect to our profession—it’s a sacred art form. It was yielded as a ritual and then brought into the limelight and we try to preserve that sacred spirit even when we perform on stage.
I haven’t taken part in the Pahim path ceremony, which is supposedly marked as the female Kandyan dancer’s graduation ceremony, similar to the attainment of Ves by the male Kandyan dancers. It’s not a necessary qualification. Yes, it may be essential for male dancers because there has been a sacred ritual associated with this initiation ceremony for males from ancient times. However, for girls, it’s not paramount. Females were never part of the Kohomba kankariya dance ritual, hence there was no traditional costume or jewelry for the females until they started performing on stage and a special costume was designed for them to suit that purpose, so the Pahim Path ceremony for females has come into being with time and inclusivity. It’s not a mandatory requirement to prove that you’re a proficient dancer, what I value is my teacher’s nod of approval. Every performance has been challenging and extraordinary thus far. On that note, I think Samhara was the focal point in my career. We collaborated with the Indian dance group, Nrityagram where the choreography was done by Surupa Sen along with my cousin Heshma Wignaraja. During this production, we had the opportunity to present this work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Joyce Theatre in New York, before the likes of Russian-American dancer, choreographer, and actor, Mikhail Baryshnikov and American dancer, choreographer and director, Mark Morris! I remember during rehearsals, Surupa Sen used to say, “Okay Thaji, now jump like Baryshnikov!”, and when we got to the Joyce Theatre he was sitting in the audience. It was an absolute dream come true!
My grandfather used to say that the 3 most common factors to be good in any chosen profession are Aha purudda, which indicates you always listen intently, Daka Purudda — to always watch and absorb every detail, and Kala Purudda, which is to practice. Always stay true to one dance form and perfect it until it seeps into your bones. Be honest and humble and the rest will just flow right into place.
As a dancer, your career is very brief. I only have another 10 to 15 years of dancing left. As a teacher, I have a lifetime to keep sharing my knowledge and perfecting that in the process. For the time I have left to perform, I plan on driving my body to the limit and investing everything I have towards that purpose, until I can give no more, because, like I said, I am the happiest when I dance.
Photography by Amitha Thennakoon. Art & Direction by Ricky De Silva. Videography by StoryWorks.