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  The beauty within Beauty And The Beast

(Left) Shonaka, ‘the beauty’ in Beauty And The Beast

and A scene from the musical

By Minal Wickrematunge

Ballet lovers and theatre goers are in for a treat with Deanna School of Dancing’s production of Beauty And The Beast. This production is directed by Sri Lanka’s famed dancer, Deanna Jayasuriya.

Deanna has a long standing career of dance starting at the wee age of two and a half years old. She enrolled at the Yvonne Bradley School of Dance in Colombo. After this she proceeded onto London at the age of 16 to attend classes with the late Miss Ruth French, a respected examiner of the Royal Academy of Dance.

Deanna then opened a school in London for a period of 10 years following which she decided to move back to her motherland and start the Deanna School of Dance. Deanna has now become a leading ballet teacher and her school has now flourished into a strong establishment.

Deanna’s two daughters, Natalie and Natasha are her assistant choreographers for this production. The eldest of the two, Natalie, is a qualified dance teacher trained by her mother as well as other establishments, namely; The Elmhurst Ballet School and Pinapple Studios in the United Kingdom. Natalie now returns to Sri Lanka with the aim of assisting her mother with the senior students of the school.

Natasha, Deanna’s youngest daughter has a diverse background in dance. Among the plethora of genres, ranging from classical ballet to Spanish dancing, her niche is undoubtedly hip hop and street jazz. Natasha has directed numerous productions including choreographing fashion shows and dance shows as well. She too will help with the school’s latest production.

I spoke further to Natasha who told me that this show will be the first production that all three dancers will be working together on. ‘It is a very special experience for the three of us!’ Natasha tells me bubbling with enthusiasm.

Q: What other productions has the school staged previously?

A: We have had many performances including Sleeping Beauty, Aladdin, Swan Princess, Nutcracker and even Beauty And The Beast that we staged a long time ago.

Q: What makes this production different to the others, particularly Beauty and the Beast that was staged before?

A: Firstly this production is much larger in scale as we will have a cast of 450 ranging from the age of two to 25. Due to the sheer size of the cast we will be having three different casts with the juniors performing on one of the three days. This ballet will also be very different as it is created from Walt Disney’s cartoon version of Beauty And The Beast.

The sound tracks are taken off the Walt Disney version as well. However we have also had to create scenes, such as the garden scene, to accommodate the large volume of juniors. Therefore the story has been slightly altered with orchestral music included by the likes of Johann Strauss as well.

Q: Tell us a little more about the lead characters.

A: We have girls who were playing minor roles in our original production of Beauty And The Beast now becoming part of the main cast! For instance Shonaka Ranatunga who plays the role of Belle was initially a tea cup in the original performance!

This actually gives the youngsters ambition or the drive they need as it goes to show that even if you have a minor role currently, you never know what will happen in 10 years if you keep practising! The standard of the students, including the juniors is also now much higher. We also have Baratha De Silva who will be playing the role of the beast while Sajaad Shabdeen will be taking the role of Gaston.

Q: What audience are you attracting? Do you agree with the perception that ballet cannot be appreciated by men?

A: Firstly the children’s parents will make up a large part of the audience as well as anybody who loves dance will be interested in this production. It is not strict ballet and will be very entertaining. We will be dancing to music with lyrics and will incorporate acting into our performances as well (At which point Natasha playfully bursts into a melody from the show).

Secondly I do not believe that men do not appreciate ballet as I believe that a lot of men realise the difficulty that comes with a guy dancing classical ballet. Also more guys in Asia are taking up ballet as they realise the strength and technique that goes into the art. This could even help with other sports like rugby and karate.

Q: Will we be seeing any fresh talent?

A: Many! Sajaad (Gaston) has done a lot of hip hop with me but this will be his first ballet performance on stage. We also have the young Kiho Tanaka, an eleven year old Japanese girl who has a bundle of talent playing the rose in the ballet. Also you cannot forget the juniors, some only two, making their debuts on stage!

Q: When will this performance be staged and where will the tickets be sold?

A: The production will be on 28, 29 and 30 at the Bishop’s College auditorium. Tickets will be available at Deanna School of Dancing 30/63 H, Longdon Place, Colombo 7. Telephone number 2504771/2. I would also like to thank all the staff, the parents of our cast and our sponsors E FM and ART TV on behalf of my mother and sister.

So all you dance lovers! Here’s hoping I have enticed you to go ahead and buy tickets for this exhilarating and enchanting production of Beauty And The Beast!



Brandon Ingram

Young author tackles delicate subjects

This week, Brandon Ingram, author of The Fairy Dance and Living Their Lies, talks about his work, inspiration and gay rights in Sri Lanka.

By Kshanika Argent

Q: Your first book was based on child sex slaves in the south. Why were you inspired to write on such a delicate topic?

A: You’re right, it is a delicate topic and one that ruffles a lot of feathers when spoken about because people would much rather ignore such a problem than acknowledge its existence. They say that children, in their purity and innocence, represent the image of God and to know that they were being used for such perverse deeds angered and infuriated me and that, I would say, was my inspiration.

Q: Do you think you qualify to speak on behalf of child sex slaves?

A: Am I an expert on the issue? Of course not. The information I received arrived on my desk during the time I was working on an advertising campaign with JWT. I write about issues that I, as an individual, feel strongly about. If we waited for qualified people to approach the subject, I believe we’ll be waiting a long time.

Q: At the launch of Living Their Lie and in the book, you state that ‘society claims to know so much of who we are that now there is no choice but to continue living their lie.’ What is this lie of which you speak?

A: Regardless of how much we may claim not to care about other people’s opinions of us, those opinions play a great role of importance in our lives. Life is short and we hardly have enough time to discover ourselves completely before society does the job for us. You wake up one day and you suddenly realise that all you’re doing is living up to someone else’s expectations or someone else’s image of who they think you are.

After some time we get tired of trying to change the opinions of ourselves and automatically start being whom they’ve crafted us to be. I think that if we all dropped the act, life would be much more interesting and far more worth living.

Q: Rumour has it that Living Their Lie is a real life story about you. Is this true?

A: Well if I was a 60 year old man recounting the events of his life then the rumour would have had some basis. (Smiles) In your question alone you’ve depicted a very strong point of what my book is trying to convey. Rumours, no matter how baseless, end up being truths because half way down the line no one remembers how and where they started.

I’ll be honest here. I was raised by three women whom I love and adore with all my heart and as a result of this I’m not your average macho dude. I’m effeminate, I’m sensitive, I lead a very bohemian life and I believe in the message my book carries, which is that gender does not define who you fall in love with.

Lots of people, including my family, have tried to make sense of these things and over the years have labelled me with every possible name society has created. The fact that the book is written in the first person adds to the controversy. But the truth, as I said at the launch, is that this book is merely an attempt to share my understanding on the subject of same gender relationships with my readers. As a solid answer to your question, I’d say refer to page number four of the book. There you will find the following sentence: Living Their Lie is a work of fiction.

Q: Does any research go into your writing?

A: I did delve into some research while I was writing my first book and the birth of the second one was after some intense discussions and interesting time spent with people who both share and oppose my beliefs and some of those who had been and still are in same gender relationships.

Q: In Living Their Lie, you categorise Colombo’s people into five segments,; ‘Wannabes’, ‘Street-Smarts’, ‘Philosophers’, ‘Elitists’ and ‘The Power Brokers’. Being a Colombo socialite yourself, which of these categories do you fall into?

A: Quite honestly I believe that Colombo has far more to offer than these five stereotypes and to be fair, these five in particular were parts of my creation. But in the years that have passed, three of my bosses and a fortune-teller have called me a Street-Smart so if I had to categorise myself then that would be it.

Q: Tell me about the gay movement here, have things improved?

A: I think it’s unfair to equalise a person’s sexual preference to something that sounds like a political party. But if you’re asking me about whether or not there’s been a change in the discrimination and violence shown towards individuals who’ve chosen same sex partners, then I wouldn’t be the best person to ask. But I do know that young men and women still get thrown out of their homes when their parents discover who they prefer holding hands with, they are still looked down upon as a social disease and they are still met with hate and venom by those who lack the understanding of what they feel. So have things changed? I don’t know, you tell me.

Q: Do you think you’re pigeonholing yourself into gay literature with books such as Living Their Lie?

A: This question is interesting because when I initially said I was writing a second book, everyone thought it was the sequel to my first novel, The Fairy Dance and they assumed I would continue writing about child abuse. I know some authors prefer a certain subject matter in order to state their identity amongst their readers but I’m not that kind of author. I simply write about what no one else likes to talk about. You may recognise my writing from one book to another but you won’t find the same content.

Q: Are you an advertising man or author? Which do you enjoy more or think you’re better at?

A: Actually I’m neither advertising man nor am I author. I’m simply someone who comes up with ideas and has the ability to write them down in a thought provoking manner.

Q: Are there any authors — local or foreign — who have inspired your writing?

A: As a matter of fact I draw most of my inspiration from Paulo Coelho. I love his stories and the style with which he delivers them to his readers.

Q: I hear you’re heavily involved in the local theatre scene. Will you turn your books into plays?

A: Um... I don’t know, but if someone wants to offer me a movie deal for my books then I’m all ears!

Q: You say you believe in writing about taboo subjects, what can we expect next?

A: I don’t know if they’re taboo amongst today’s society but I’m hoping to base my third novel across a range of subjects, namely: autism, abortion and the harsh cruelty of parents who despise their own children. But I will be taking a bit of a break before I pull it across the finish line.

Q: The artwork of your books and glam shot of yourself on the back sleeve are very nice.

A: Thank you but all credit there goes to Naveen Mihindukulasuriya who designed both covers and the man responsible for the photography was Deshan Tennekoon. I’m in debt to their talent.

- Brandon Ingram was educated in Colombo and began his career in writing as a trainee copywriter at JWT at the age of 17. He currently heads a creative team at LOWE LDB and is frequently involved in the cutting edge theatre company Mind Adventures.

Symphony For A Child: Making a difference through music

Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu

Symphony For A Child, is a unique, annual charitable concert that has happened in London for the last 11 years, mainly due to the warmth and generosity of spirit, boundless energy and commitment of one woman, Srima Jayasekera – a former concert pianist and music teacher. Held at Regent Hall in the heart of Central London, the concert has brought together a number of distinguished performers including most of the Sri Lankan musicians living abroad who have excelled in their art.

Over the years Rohan and Druvi De Saram, Rohan de Silva, Gayathrie Pieris and Sujeeva Hapugalle have been amongst the artists who have gladly played their part in Symphony For A Child.

The idea for the Symphony, sprang from Srima’s determination to help enhance the facilities of the Children’s Unit of the Maharagama Cancer Hospital following a visit there over a decade ago. Scrupulously audited and distributed at every concert, all proceeds from the Symphony– except for the hire of the hall — go towards the improvement of the conditions and opportunities for Sri Lankan children primarily under the age of 16.

Accordingly, institutions as well as individuals have benefited from the proceeds of Symphony For A Child. The first concert, attended by over 250 people raised over 4,000 pounds sterling for the Children’s Unit and since then Symphony For A Child has raised an annual sum of 2,000 pounds sterling for the Unit.

The proceeds from this year’s concert will be donated to Ward No. 2 of the IDH in Gothatuwa, Angoda for children with HIV and other serious paediatric conditions. This ward was opened on May 14, in memory of Srima’s late husband Brighty, a former manager of the Bank of Ceylon in London and a great source of strength and support to Srima. She also gratefully acknowledges the support of Drs. B.J.C. Perera, D.D.A. Wijewickrema and Anura Senanayake in this initiative.

Amongst the children whose lives have been changed by Symphony For A Child are Nuwan Maduwagaruge and Chulani Umayangana. In 2005, Nuwan then a 13 year old, was horribly injured after falling into a pit of burning coconut shells whilst chasing a cricket ball. With the help of Symphony For A child he was warded for a year at the Apollo Hospital under the care of the Indian specialist Dr. Panesar. Having recovered reasonably well, Nuwan was able to return to school.

In 2006, Chulani aged six and born deaf and dumb had her first cochlear implant in an operation performed by Dr. Kaneswaran from India, at the Durdans Hospital. The operation was a major success – Chulani can hear, she attends school, is trying to talk and continues with speech therapy at Durdans.

Yet another life that has been changed, decisively and deservedly, by the Symphony is that of Namal Sanjeewa. Namal, a son of poor parents from Weerawila in Tissamaharama was recommended to Srima by Kushil Gunasekera. Even at 13, his age when Srima first encountered him – Namal wanted to be an engineer. Srima concedes that she had doubts at first and cautioned him about the commitment and hard work this would entail. Namal however dispelled all doubts, obtaining 10 Distinctions at his O/Levels and 3 ‘A’s at A/Levels.

With the help of a further year’s tuition in English, Namal entered the University of Moratuwa for a four year degree course (English Medium) in Civil Engineering. As he was over 16 and Symphony Funds were restricted to essential material and equipment, Srima’s family helped with his board, lodging and daily expenses. Every year on the course, Namal obtained First Class passes and he has just completed his BSc in Civil Engineering (First Class). He has been placed on the Dean’s List with a score of 3.99 out of a possible 4.2.

This year’s Symphony For A Child will feature artistes from various backgrounds who share a common characteristic of excellent potential and accomplishment. The programme will range form Western Classical music played on the piano, flute, violin and cello to vocal duets and solo tenors to traditional Kandyan drums, the Miruthangam, Jazz Piano and Rhythm and Blues.

The programme in this respect sustains the tradition of Symphony concerts of variety in the choice of the music as well as in the age of the performers. Symphony For A Child is about excellence and accomplishment irrespective of age or musical discipline. Above all, this remarkable initiative that has been sustained for over a decade with love and commitment, is about opportunity and about making a difference for children, their lives and futures.

Victims — a theme relevant to young people

An actor in the drama

"Victims is a production presented by the senior school of Gateway College. It will be staged at the Lionel Wendt on August 1 and 2 at 7 p.m.. Victims is a production with music, song and dance. It has a cast of approximately 50 students.

The script of Victims has been written by Sashi Mendis, based on workshop improvisations with the cast. On several occasions students met with the director ( Sashi) and participated in different types of activity through which ideas were generated, worked upon and developed. There were discussions on issues and themes relevant to young people. Characters and story lines were created and built upon. There were many sessions where students improvised scenes according to given guidelines. These exercises and activities laid the foundation for writing the script.

Victims is a play that revolves around the lives of a group of young people still attending school. This play looks at problems and issues faced by young people, in the context of their day to day lives.

As the title suggests, Victims not only analyses how young people are sometimes the victims of social ills, misguided values, etc, but how they can be the victims of society at large, friends, parents and of themselves.

The story of Ryan

For instance the play presents the story of Ryan. Ryan is a promising student, well respected by all and seems to have it all made. However as the story unfolds we see that Ryan is a victim of his own habits and of a deed he didn’t really mean to do. His question is; Why is life so unfair? Because as he believes himself to be a fairly balanced person who made just one mistake. So the play poses the question – is Ryan a victim of himself or is he a victim of those around him and their influence or is he a victim of both?

The story of Melanie is yet another well balanced, talented, young girl that falls prey to Ryan’s carelessness and her life takes a different turn. She is undoubtedly a victim of the morals and the carelessness of others around her.

The story of Sonali – Sonali a friend to Ryan , Melanie and Shehan has a very troubled relationship with her mother. Naturally, Sonali’s life is in disarray. She is a victim of an estranged marriage and a neglectful parent. This leads her to take her life into her own hands and to making her own decisions. The play questions whether she is a victim or whether she can overcome her sad situation.

The story of Shehan — Shehan is intelligent and is a high performer at examinations. A boy who has never known his mother ( who died on his birth) is sensitive and hero worships his father. At school however, Shehan is cornered and bullied in school for being the Clever Nerd. The play reveals a breaking point in Shehan’s life. Shehan is thus portrayed to be a victim of many social realities to which he succumbs and is unable to overcome.

While the play Victims portrays in depth these issues of young people. The play at the same time presents the average life style of young people and thereby has an entertaining and lighthearted aspect to it as well. So we have as part of the play a talent competition which brings in an element of song and music to the play. There is even a comic play (A play within the play) that is acted as part of the Talent Competition.

The play Victims aims to be both entertaining and thought provoking.

Two talented sisters seek help

Ramodi and Rashmi

One is a dancer and the other a singer. While one composes songs the other dances. K.A Ramodi Nimesha Silva, 15, and K.A.Rashmi Navodya Silva, 10, are two sisters who are determined to succeed in life. Ramodi’s dream in life is to some day become a professional singer while Rashmi’s is to become a professional dancer.

Even though their determination to succeed in life is constantly on their minds, Ramodi and Rashmi have to depend on their mother’s meager income to attend Sri Dharmarama Maha Vidyalaya as their father abandoned them at a very young age. Their mother earns a daily living by selling her wares by the roadside, and her income is not enough to support the two children in their extra curricular activities.

"I always liked to sing. When I was 12 years old I started singing and writing songs. My songs are based on the soldiers who fight on behalf of our motherland, parentless children, orphaned children in shelters and sad songs that reflect the suffering of people. I take around half an hour to write a song," said Ramodi.

She added that her teacher and mother support her by correcting the grammatical mistakes in her songs. "My hope is to become a music teacher and then a singer someday. I have written around 30 songs up to date and would like to launch my CD soon. However I don’t have the required funds to launch my CD," Ramodi explained.

Rashmi does Kandyan dancing and ballet. She is a talented singer as well. However her mother’s income is not sufficient to send her for dancing classes. Ramodi and Rashmi residing at No. 27, Station Road, Ratmalana have appealed for help to make their dreams a reality.









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