Chucking the Dragon

A shot-in-the-arm for Sri Lankan literature?

By Peter Marshall
The much talked about debut novel by Mark Wilde is certainly not what I personally, or many others from what I gather, associate with Sri Lanka-based literature.
In the Western world, tales of drug use and disenfranchised youth are nothing new. (William S. Burroughs wrote the modern classic Junky about the American drug culture way back in the 1950s). Though this tale marks a distinct change of style to the usual Sri Lankan offerings it steers clear of simply being an unoriginal, Sri Lankan version of a particular style of novel.

This of course means that the book may well end up appealing to a far greater audience, speaking as it does of a wider experience than merely one only a Sri Lankan reader can appreciate.
The story is written autobiographically and revolves around a young guy about to start his education at Colombo University, with the added problem that he has lost the love of his life, and the slight hitch that he is hooked on heroine.
Many have been quick to praise the novel for showing this side to Sri Lankan urban life that many people world-wide assume to be a problem that is purely a Western one; the popular stereotype is that Sri Lankan misery is purely concerned with sufferings caused by poverty or the long civil war the island has endured over past decades.

I wholeheartedly agree with the praise the book has received though don’t be fooled into thinking that this some how glorifies drug use in any way, for though enjoyable to anyone who likes intelligent and powerful writing nobody will find anything – unless considerably unstable – enjoyable in the actual subject matter itself; warts and all is a phrase that definitely applies here.
Being a male prostitute, the agony of withdrawal symptoms when he retreats down south to try and ‘kick the habit’ by going cold turkey, overdosing – the reader is given the whole gambit of the addict’s experiences.
There are also several inferences that can be made about other elements of Sri Lankan life; this is not a novel that restricts its content purely to that of drug use in general.

Some have criticised the novel for being very Westernised due to the use of allusion to Western popular music lyrics and popular culture and names used of many characters. This criticism did strike a chord with me whilst reading it though I feel this is simply a reflection of the so called ‘global village’ that Sri Lanka is every bit a part of as we head into the 21st Century –many young Sri Lankans today have a far more Westernised or global view and attitude than their parents (regardless of whether you happen to think this is necessarily a positive thing for the island or not).

I would also add that the man clearly has good taste in music as well as a keen eye for meaningful lyrics (obviously a totally personal view – and one of a Westerner) though you don’t have to be in your 20s or 30s or have Nirvana’s back catalogue of albums to appreciate this book.

Another criticism a friend of mine pointed out (a Sri Lankan-born and bred) is that he thought for a novel of its size some issues were not given enough attention and that perhaps Wilde would have been better off simply sticking to key points in detail. Obviously, as a Westerner, it’s hard for me to see such a criticism as it’s impossible for me to suddenly see the world, or rather the book, through a pair of Sri Lankan eyes, though this didn’t appear to be a problem to me but then as a Brit it wouldn’t. Could Mark Wilde intentionally be trying to hawk this novel to a wider audience than his own native one? And if so, does it really matter in the grand scheme of things (once again I feel an argument over the pros and cons of globalisation on the horizon) though the fact that this novel can appeal to a foreigner too does not necessarily detract from its value? Let’s face it, a great many classics of literature appeal to a vast number of different and disparate cultures; the Russian novel Crime And Punishment has no lack of admirers in the US, Germany or England for example.

The style of Chucking The Dragon is very in your face and pulls no punches (and doesn’t rely on clichés like the two I’ve just used either), the narrative being in the vernacular, somewhat staccato in style, and the attitude of the protagonist is typically one of youthful arrogance with a sinister element of the self destructive element most would associate with a problem such as becoming dependent on an illegal drug.
This obviously means the use of the occasional swear word for reasons of realism though at no point did I get the impression that this was in any way gratuitous or a cynical way of creating shock value.
It is certainly very different from what people associate with the island’s English language literary heritage – well respected and of undeniable high quality this may well be.

Of course, there will be those who do not like the book and those who simply ‘disapprove’ (even in the West where, as I’ve mentioned earlier, such books are nothing new, I know those who would have this reaction) though I believe it does any art-form good to be shaken up once in a while for that is how new ideas and new directions are forged.
Personally I enjoyed the book a great deal and certainly think that despite not being for the faint hearted, the positive response that it has quite obviously garnered from many quarters, is on the whole very well deserved.


Andre David

Performing Arts School

By Shabna Cader
“Growing up there was never a proper performing arts school that I could attend,” stated Andre David, who like many others in Sri Lanka has found it difficult to pursue his stream of interest completely.
Like Andre, so many locals miss out on an opportunity to truly pursue their dreams, to attend a performing arts school and graduate from art stream they truly love and belong. On the other hand, the reality is that locals can go to separate schools (sometimes have to go overseas) for separate art streams and graduated separately, wasting away many years altogether.

“There is never a problem with other streams and fields of interest or choice of career; there are so many institutions mushrooming around for everything else but for someone who needs training in performing arts, which is why I’ve decided to open a school,” added Andre.
The DAPA (David Academy of Performing Arts) hopes to begin its courses in singing and musical theatre in the month of September. Other fields of art will be added to the school as the semester moves forward. Andre’s main goal, having opened this school, is to someday be able to be affiliated with all other performing arts schools abroad like Julliard.

Those who wish to apply are to contact Andre and must have basic academic qualifications. There will soon be courses that would include dancing (classical jazz, ballet, Latin American etc) and acting.
“I’d be teaching the first couple of singing and musical theatre classes but for the rest of the subjects that we hope to add to the curriculum will be left to teachers of those fields – whom I intend of bringing on board soon”.
There will be three centres of the school – Moratuwa, Rajagiriya and Kohuwela. Auditions will be held soon and those who wish to apply to attend must be within the age limits of eight to 27 years.

“Unlike other schools those who apply and auditions must be those who have a high level of keen interest and raw talent to be a part. More people dance than act but I know for a fact that the scope is greater for acting than dancing but we’ll see how things move forward once the school begins” said Andre.
There will be three classes for each field – first class for those between the ages of 8-12, second class for those between the ages of 13-16 and lastly for those between 18-27.

Classes will be held once a week for an hour for four months initially. “depending on how things go, I’d like to stage plays/shows at the end of every sixth month or perhaps even ideally have 3 musicals per year; it’s a lot to hope for but we’ll see!,” said Andre.
If this sounds like something you’ve always wanted to be a part of don’t hesitate to contact Andre on 071 688 1121 for further information on how you can apply and audition to be a part of David Academy of Performing Arts.

About Andre David
- Vocal teacher, choreographer and director.
- Runs the junior section of the Mary Anne School of Vocal Music, deputy director of the school and deputy conductor of the performing group and choir “The Merry An Singers”. Choreographs and trains solo voices on a one-on-one basis for performances, competitions and examinations. (For information on the school, see Annexure)

- A singer, actor and dancer and has won praise for his performances as well as his productions from both Sri Lankan and foreign critics. He has won several awards for outstanding performances by himself and his students, including most outstanding performer (adult) of the Year at the Sri Lanka Federation Festivals for two years running in the Humorous and Musical Theatre Categories (2007, 2008). He was also given awards for being the teacher whose students won the highest number of gold medals and island-wide winner awards.
- Repertoire spans several genres, including Classical and Operatic, Sacred, Gospel, Pop, Jazz Standards, Broadway and Musical Theatre but his focus has been on Broadway and Musical Theatre, Old time jazz, swing time, rock ‘n’ roll etc.

Trained extensively with Mary Anne David in vocal technique and teaching methods, Shannon Raymond in tap dance and street Jazz, Mrs Nilani Vas and Mrs Ramya De Livera in piano and Mr Andrew David and in drama and theatre direction. He also performed with the Workshop Players for a short spell.
- Trained in Sivananda Yoga and relaxation techniques for singers and performers.
- Trained in Martial Arts techniques (particularly Wu Shu) and Physical Training techniques by Mr Liel Fernando and Mr Nalin Perera of the Sri Lanka Wu Shu Federation.
Other techniques learned include, Kick Boxing, Aikido and Shotokan Karate.
These techniques come in useful when teaching fitness for singers and performers.


Dancesport an innate skill and passion for trainer Darshan

By Sarasi Paranamanna
Dancing is a vibrant form of art which one has to practice with patience and grace but today the subject has evolved so much that dancing is not just an elegant form of aesthetic movement but it is a sport pursued with strenuous exercises and application of stamina.
The idea of dancesport might be foreign to many but to Darshan Wijesooriya it is an innate skill and passion which has been cultivated over the years.
Being one of the most famous and foremost personalities in the arena Darshan Wijesooriya has established himself as a dance trainer and dancesport promoter in Sri Lanka. Starting his journey from the International Dance Studio (IDS) after training and enhancing his skills in Ballroom dancing and Latin American dancing, Darshan Wijesooriya has formed a dance school called the “The Dance Academy” together with iconic accomplished dancers Toni Fernandez and Cyraine Illangakoon.

After completing his professional exams Darshan has taken up teaching dance in his dance academy and he has passed on his skills and ardor for dance to over five thousand students so far. As a dance instructor Darshan insists on teaching the proper techniques to students without brushing up the movements. “In dancing every step is dissected into sub parts and each movement is precise and predefined, but with social dancing one cannot teach all these, those who learn dancing to compete will learn these proper techniques and without these techniques the dance is not complete and defined” says Darshan.

Being a dance instructor for over 21 years, Darshan is a licentiate of the International Dance Teachers Association, the United Kingdom Alliance and he is also an associate member of the National Association of Teachers of Dancing UK. Making his mark in the international arena Darshan has represented Sri Lanka in many international dancesport championships as an Adjudicator. Obtaining the privilege of working in a panel alongside some of the most renowned world class dancers, Darshan is the first Sri Lankan dance instructor to be granted the honour of representing Sri Lanka in international dancesport championships.
Recognising the need to promote dancesport in Sri Lanka Darshan has pioneered in spreading the concept of dancesport through organising dancesport championships in Sri Lanka.

This year he will be organising the fourth International Dancesport Championship in October. Strengthening his ties with governing bodies of dancesport, Darshan has joined the Asia Dance Council and he is also an executive member of the council which is affiliated to the World Dance Council. Through these ties he will be bringing down qualified foreign judges for the dancesport competition and foreign couples will also be competing with the local dance couple at this championship. To date he has organised a total of 12 local championships and 3 international championships. “Organising these championships is not difficult when you have contacts with renowned dancers and governing bodies which I have cultivated over the years but the main barrier is the cost factor because choosing suitable dance floors and getting foreign dancers to perform is very costly”, said Darhsan.

However, with all these challenges Darshan has been instrumental in bringing down World Latin American Champions to perform in Sri Lanka providing the local audience with a golden opportunity of witnessing the aspiring performances of world class dancers right here in Sri Lanka. With much gusto and enthusiasm Darshan is looking forward to hold the fourth International Dancesport Championship this year as the local audience will get to enjoy the best of style, elegance and energy in one dance floor.


Books speak volumes about Lankan history and culture

The first copies of the two volumes of the books on the Dalada Maligawa – The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic – written by Late Professor Anuradha Seneviratna, were presented to President Mahinda Rajapaksa recently by Mr. Vijitha Yapa, Chairman of Vijitha Yapa Publications.
The President praised Vijitha Yapa Publications for printing the illustrated editions of Professor Anuradha Seneviratna’s works, not only of the Dalada Maligawa but also of the The Kandy Esala Perahara, Dambulla and Gateway to Kandy, with beautiful colour photographs.
This will be of tremendous use to not only to Sri Lankans but also to foreigners to understand and appreciate our history and culture, he said.

He said he would present copies to visiting state dignitaries and also take copies of the books with him overseas on his official visits.
Professor Anuradha Seneviratna’s two sons, Udayana and Sindhu were also present at the event as well as directors, Lalana Yapa and Peshan Yapa and the editor of the publication, Siri Almeida.
Copies were also offered to the Sacred Tooth Relic, and presented to the Mahanayake of Asgiriya Chapter and the Anunayaka of the Malwatte Chapter, and to the Diyawadana Nilame, just prior to the commencement of the Perahera.

The Sacred Tooth Relic has played a major role in the political, social and religious life in the past, and it will continue to play the same vital role in the days ahead. Therefore, these books are an important contribution to the knowledge of scholars of architecture, history, religion and the culture of Sri Lanka.
Prof Anuradha Seneviratna, a meticulous researcher, read through the galley proofs just prior to his death last year.

Volume 1 deals with the history and architecture of the temples which housed the Sacred Tooth Relic in various parts of the island, beginning with Anuradhapura where it was initially housed after Princess Hemamala and Prince Danta brought it from the Kalinga country in India in the 4th century AD during the reign of Kirti Sri Meghavanna. Since then the Sacred Tooth Relic was moved to several places, depending on the security situation in times of war, till the Sacred Tooth Relic was brought finally to Senkadagalapura (now Kandy) in the 16th century during the reign of Vimaladharmasuriya I and housed in the Sri Dalada Maligawa in Kandy. All these places where the Sacred Tooth Relic was housed, have been described in detail with photographs and illustrations to complement the text.

Volume 2 deals with Rituals, Customs and Ceremonies associated with the Sacred Tooth Relic and the Temple from historical times, which still continue to be performed to this day.
These rites, the legacy of more than 2,000 years of Buddhist worship, provide an unbroken lineage between the past and the present, and their continuation ensures a heritage for the future.

Daily rites, weekly rites, monthly rites and yearly rites are dealt with in detail. Associated with the yearly rites is the Äsala Perahära, and this is described in full, with colour photographs to support the text.
Professor Anuradha Seneviratna, who graduated from Peradeniya University in 1965, obtained his Doctor of Philosophy degree in 1968 from the University of Halle in Germany.

He joined the academic staff of the Colombo University in the same year as a Lecturer in Sinhala.
He joined the Peradeniya University in 1973 as Senior Lecturer in Sinhala and served in that capacity until 1984. During this period, he also served as the director of the Institute of Aesthetic Studies in Colombo.
He won the Fulbright Research Fellowship in 1977 and served as a Research Associate in the University of Indiana, and later in the University of California.
He was promoted as Associate Professor in the Department of Sinhala in 1984, and served in that position till 1991.

In 1988, he won the Commonwealth Academic Staff Fellowship and was elected to a Visiting fellowship at the Institute of Social Anthropology in the Oxford University. In 1991, he was promoted a full Professor and in 1996 as a Senior Professor in which capacity he served till his retirement from this University in February 2004.
He was appointed Senior Fellow of the University of London in 1998 and was the Visiting Professor of Sinhala, Pali and Buddhism for two years.

He was awarded the Emeritus Professor status by the University Council on his retirement.
According to a recent bibliography prepared by the Peradeniya University, he has written nearly seventy books in Sinhala and English, research articles and newspaper articles.
He was conferred the highest National Award ‘Kalakirti’ by the Government of Sri Lanka in 1991 and the honorary title ‘Dharma Sastra Visarada Kirti Sri’ in the same year by the Malwatte Maha Vihara in Kandy in recognition of his services to Arts, Literature, Education and Culture.

He also won the State Literary Award thrice for his published books in English.
He was also the president of the Arts Council of Sri Lanka.
The Central Provincial Council, at a public reception held in Kandy in 2007, honoured him for his services rendered to the country over the last fifty years.
Similarly, the Kandy Municipal Council unanimously named a municipal road at Katugastota after him calling it ‘Professor Anuradha Seneviratna Mawatha’ in recognition of his services.