Sunday, April 12, 2015

Beyond just a handover

"Drums and Dance" didn't begin with a whimper. It didn't end with a bang either, but it might as well have. In any case, Chandana Wickramasinghe wanted it to be a handover. That is why he ended the show the way it ended, but I'll get to that later. For now, let me come out with it: it tried to be what it was cut out to be. The show made the effort and the effort didn't show. Commendably. There must have been a lot of hinging and unhinging behind the curtain for all I know, but that wasn't displayed. I liked that.

Bishop's College Auditorium is not Nelum Pokuna. It needn't be. There's a bigger "embrace" between viewer and stage when it comes to the former. Perhaps that's why Chandana and NAADRO (his partner in this enterprise) selected it. I don't know. Another strong point. He could have alienated his audience. He didn't. I liked that too.

"Drums and Dance" had more than 10 items. Two of them were combined, the rest individual. I couldn’t really tell, however. If Chandana and NAADRO had aimed for a fusion, it showed even in those items which didn't explicitly have the two together. I don't know whether that's a strong point or not, but it showed throughout. For better or for worse, it made up the "motif" by which every other point and wart in the show could be judged. And interpreted.

For a concert that was made to build up to a "handover", it needed a balance of old and new. "Drums and Dance" didn't just emphasise that but (I would say) tilted a little bit towards the new. There were items which were tradition-bound, of course: one item in particular, with the Gara Yaka, moved and electrified me. But overall, when it came to music and form, there was a heavy tilt towards the new.

Part of the reason has to do with NAADRO, I think. There was a conjugation of style and tradition in whatever they did. There was an item with cajóns that simply startled me. Effortless, yes. But perfect? Debatable. They had innovated and had trained hard for all these sequences, no doubt. I suspect that's why the audience clapped so loudly. The audience clapped loudly for Chandana's items too, but for a very different reason. Chandana was the compensating factor. When NAADRO moved towards the new, he ensured a balance. His dancers fell before tradition, almost literally.

I did feel that both tried to compensate for this tilt a little bit too much, though. Barring one or two items, every tradition-bound sequence was filled with colour. Unnecessarily? I don't know. All I could guess was that this tried to make up for the overly "novel" items which NAADRO kept dishing out to the audience, one after the other. That didn't compromise on the show, however. Thankfully. There were one or two items which seemed like add-ons and which jarred a little bit. Apart from those, however, it seemed effortless.

Chandana promised me a lack of colour. "Colour" of course is subjective and everyone is entitled to his or her definition of it. To me, however, the show didn't lack colour. Neither did it go overboard with it (thankfully), but colour-lack wasn't something I saw there. The Gara Yaka sequence seemed the biggest example for this, but then again in sequences like that lack of colour wouldn't have added to effect. At all.

NAADRO's items were less about colour and more about sound, naturally, but even there I felt a glitzy style which jarred in an apparently desaturated show. "The Marching Drums" (I believe the audience clapped loudest for this item) had a play of light and shade which no one saw coming. I'm not saying this was a flaw. I'm suggesting that for a show that was supposed to lack colour it seemed a little saturated. To me at least.

So was this perfect? It was certainly effortless. I didn’t feel cheated. Neither did the audience. As for the performers, they looked happy. NAADRO's members in particular enjoyed what they were doing. Perhaps that added more colour to the evening. There may have one or two instances where a drum-stick fell. I couldn't tell. It didn't matter, anyway.

Besides colour-lack, Chandana promised me that "Drums and Dance" would be a handover. I couldn't have seen such a thing coming the way the show went, but it culminated with a combined item by the two organisers. There was a ceremonial get-together of all the participants, dancers, and drummers in the concert. That's when the "handover" happened. A group of old veterans, Ravibandu Vidyapathi included, came up to the stage.

They spoke. They shed tears. They praised what they had seen and blessed the performers. Ravibandu in particular spoke a great deal about NAADRO and how he had been moved by their talent. It was then that they revealed this was a third-generation shift. It wasn't just Ravibandu who was there. Ravibandu's teachers were there too. Mentors, all of them. The show for me was less a casual handover than a handover to a third generation. It was neither a bang nor a whimper, hence. Aptly.

"Drums and Dance" served purpose, in any case. It raised expectation, and while it didn't keep to what was expected all the way, it didn't detour from what it promised either. There was fusion alright, of form and content. Old and new met, although the show didn't balance the two as evenly as I thought it would. But it didn't go overboard. Yes, there were one or two sequences that did seem to. Yes, they were add-ons that jarred. They pale into insignificance, however, when considering how much effort both Chandana Wickramasinghe and NAADRO put in without showing that they did. That's something.

Photos courtesy of Yasas Wijerathna

Written for: Ceylon Today LITE, April 12 2015