Dance and Diversity

Monday, 23 December 2019

Having worked for national radio for more than three decades made me realise that dedicated work in the fields of performing arts and culture is one of the best methods to build bridges between people of different ethnic, religious, and national origins. The performing arts is probably one of the best ways to create identity, recognition, mutual respect, and understanding among people. The goal of using cultural bridges between communities is to create a feeling of oneness and togetherness. By promoting the integration of culture through mutual respect and understanding, a culturally diverse society can avoid discrimination and racial conflict.

Today, the manner in which the performing arts and culture is creating warmth between ethnic groups and even between states is amazing. Performers have become plenipotentiaries of state diplomacy. Their artistic talents are threads that weave people of various nationalities together. The performing arts have the potential to be a medium to provide space for a shift in consciousness that surpasses barriers created by the collective human ego.

Seeing the beauty of the performing arts could awaken people to realise the beauty between different people which is an essential part of the innermost being, ultimately creating peace. Music is the language of the emotions and dance has the power of bringing people from diverse societies together through the power of rhythm.

As an artist, broadcaster, composer, choreographer and producer, I used music and dance as powerful vehicles to bring people together, to merge, to share one platform, cultivating mutual understanding, tolerance, respect, and promoting the reality of excellence through diversity.

One example was the most sought-after show ‘Harmony’ comprising 60 artistes from all ethnic groups performing together as one family. This show was run in six cities abroad, many times over. Another example is the choreography binding both Kandyan and Bharatham styles, marvellously unified in a dynamic composition expressing rhythm in harmony. This production has been performed more than 42 times locally and internationally – in Norway, India, and Indonesia. Sri Lankan drums are a wealth of sounds. Percussion playing in Sri Lanka has developed into a progressive art form with varied musical disciplines.

In my productions, I have used the performing arts to build a bridge between different communities. Drums of all ethnic groups interwoven into a brilliant rhythmic pattern with the footwork of both Kandyan and Bharatham styles set in unison was the ultimate dialogue and building of cultural bridges consisting of creating oneness.

A multi-ethnic Oriental orchestra comprising 100 youth from various parts of the island showcased the diverse ethnic and regional musical traditions that exist in our country. The Oriental music orchestra project brought 100 talented young artistes from all ethnic groups to share one platform. It was an effort towards harmony by creating a shared musical experience and certainly an excellent opportunity for the sharing, merging and the revival of classical musical traditions which are rapidly losing popularity due to pop and other commercial interventions.

To promote art and music as a contributor to the peace and reconciliation process in Sri Lanka, I as the director at the national radio station produced many unity songs in all three languages spoken in the country. The ability to unite people through a song set in same the melody, but in different languages, giving the same meaning, is remarkable. The language may be unfamiliar to them, but still they learn and sing with enthusiasm. The energy and optimism that flows from the song is contagious and it is wonderful to watch artistes singing as cultural ambassadors. Such songs will inspire young people to take an active stand on peaceful conflict resolution, so that their generation will finally know what it means to live in a country where guns are silent.

Music and dance adds life and depth to our emotions. It develops differently in accordance with the varying standards of intellectual status, scientific consciousness, social awareness, religious trends and the way of life. Culture is a necessity for the development of the human race and as a means of communication between people. Cultural experiences create a base for human contact.

Within the area of cultural expressions, music has shown to have unique possibilities to create contact and understanding between people from different cultures. All cultures have their own musical expressions, their own styles of music, and their unique musical instruments. But all music also has roots that touch and even cross the roots of other musical expressions. This is exactly what makes music so exciting and touching, wherever you may be in the world.

Sri Lanka has a great history of the performing arts, dance and music that is deeply interconnected with our history, our culture, and religious traditions. The music festivals organised in Jaffna and Galle since 2010 by the music cooperation project was a showcase displaying the traditional folk art forms preserved by the indigenous folk artistes of all ethnic groups and all other genres of music and dance. As the consultant to the project, I felt that it was indeed a rare combination of traditions which paved way to peace and harmony. The focus of the festival on cultural heritage of all ethnic groups undoubtedly enlightened the younger generation and provided an opportunity for the young to preserve the cultural traditions for generations to come and build bridges between communities using these art forms.

People from different background can relate to one another through the performing arts, paving the way to interact and work towards peace and reconciliation. Music transcends language and political barriers, and through music, people can experience, understand and learn from each other. Festivals provide a window of opportunity to promote reconciliation within Sri Lanka by bridging cultural differences, through music, the performing arts and drama.

Such an environment enabled me to create that paradigm shift in the musical world by introducing the concepts of harmony and fusion. The Aru Sri Art Theatre founded by me in 2004 promotes ethnic harmony through the visual and performing arts. My vision is to develop the theatre as a place where traditional art forms can flourish alongside contemporary interpretations. My theatre has been more successful than many others because of its cultural and religious diversity. All disciplines of dance, Kandyan, Bharathanatyam, Kathak, Kathakali, Kuchipudi, folk, contemporary, and many more are encouraged at the theatre, irrespective of religion. The limitation of language, the boundary of religion, and the restriction of age all are not given heed within the walls of my theatre. Once we start to dance, all our attention is on rhythm, the pulse, the heartbeat.

Musicians are members of the world brotherhood and shed lustre around them wherever they go. When music comes to be universally practised, there will be less crime in this world and it will be a happier place in to live.

Bridge building between communities using art and culture is more powerful than weapons.

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Kalasuri Dr. Arunthathy Sri Ranganathan is a senior Broadcaster, former Director Tamil Service, and former Board Director of the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC). Apart from being an Economics graduate specialised in banking, she is a reputed musician, composer, choreographer , and media consultant. She is the Founder/Director of Aru Sri Art Theatre and a Lecturer at the University of Visual and Performing Arts. She is well known for her dynamic innovations in music compositions, especially for dance dramas and multicultural concerts. She brought with her to the stage the classical traditions of music and dance that gave relevance and meaning to the art form in the current age.

Dr Arunthathy Sri Ranganathan has worked as the Artistic Director for many art festivals, local and international and is the recipient of many awards and titles both national and international for her contribution to the fields of broadcasting, art and culture.

She is a member of several prestigious boards and was the senior advisor to the music cooperation project between Norway and Sri Lanka. She is the pioneer in bringing together the cream of Sri Lankan artistes, handpicked from diverse ethnicities to a common platform. She has made a lasting contribution to the country’s efforts towards national reconciliation through the refreshing medium of the performing arts.

The Aru Sri Art Theatre promotes harmony and peace using art and culture. The performers at Aru Sri Art Theatre have travelled widely performing at prestigious international festivals.