We call Sri Lanka The pearl of the Indian Ocean but imagine a pearl inside a pearl. Yes, Shamitha Ruchiran Hettige is just that. He is one of the star dancers from Sri Lanka who has gained popularity all over the world. Shamitha is an established Kandyan and contemporary dancer, performer and teacher from Colombo. I spoke with Shamitha in detail about all his dance training and achievements and this is what he had to say:
Tell me all about your dance training?
I began my dance training at the age of nine under legendary dancers, Channa Wijewardana and Upuli Panibharatha. My training ranges from traditional Kandyan, modern dance and French ballet techniques. I am humbled that I am lauded for my flawless and geometrically fine jumps rooting from Kandyan and other traditional dance forms of Sri Lanka. Ever since the age of 16, I have represented my country and Channa Upuli dance troupe in more than 60 countries and prestigious venues.
You have performed extensively which has been your most memorable show?
There are many close to my heart as a lead performer at Carnival of Culture 2012 at Berlin to grab Sri Lanka the winning title, male lead in Thala, a production encompassing various Sri Lankan and contemporary styles of dance performed at Kennedy Center, Washington, Miller Outdoor Theatre, Houston. It was the same production that toured main cities of Australia, New Zealand, UAE, US, Europe and Japan. I also fondly remember when I played the lead role of Siddhartha in Buddha dance ballet presented to the international convention of Buddhist representatives in Sri Lanka, King Ashoka at Museus College Auditorium and Siyapath silu, a production based on a folk tale of Sri Lanka.
Also what is close to my heart is when I led a team of dancers to represent Sri Lanka at The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, held in Colombo. Another one where I played the male lead pairing with Upuli Panibharata for Kuweni production at California. Played the central role in Sannaliyane, another well acclaimed dance production in Sri Lanka. I can go on and on. Dance has made me travel the world, I have had the privilege of performing and representing my country on many key stages of Russia, Japan, Germany, Sweden, United Kingdom, France, Italy, Singapore, Malaysia, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, China, India, Papua New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand. Each of my travel and my show is etched in my heart forever.
Tell me more about your work?
I am also the founder of Playmore, Sri Lanka’s and India’s first trampoline based fitness studio. As a teacher, I has been imparting dance knowledge to hundreds of students on behalf of Channa-Upuli dance academy as well as on my own. I have an active set of students from around the globe learning Kandyan online. My hunger to learn never stops. I am currently learning Sri Lankan traditional drums, Mayur Bhanj Chhau, Kalaripayattu and exploring pedagogies of other traditional arts forms of South Asia. I have recently performed for Trikaaya Dance Academy’s online festival and Art of Living’s World Forum for Arts & Culture.
Sri Lanka is very rich in its culture just like India. What similarities do you see?
Like every country, Sri Lanka is proud of its culture and traditions and has its own unique character. The common denominator we share is that we both have great respect and love for nature. Like India we too have many festivals in our tradition. You know the initial posture of the Kandyan dance tradition is similar to that of Kathakali dance in Kerala, with dance elements varying from story to region and culture to region. In both countries, dance is considered sacred and is part of the temple rituals. Also, many of the movements of Kandyan dance are similar to most of the traditional dances of India, but its main morphological variations are as inherent as those of other traditional dances, like India, we also have dance forms with characterisation and storytelling.
How is the dance scene in Sri Lanka?
There are mixed type of dancers in Sri Lanka. Traditional, modern and both. Traditional and modern dance is evolving and now appealing to the younger generation. I see they are interested in learning dance with the right techniques. What I also know is that creating love for dance in a student is totally in the hands of the teacher and their parents. The teacher needs to encourage and guide every step of the student as well as introduce innovative methods of teaching and learning. And on the other hand parents need to extend support and understanding. Money plays a major role for students who want to learn but cannot afford the tuition fee and, on the slip side, students who can afford the fee but have no interest in dancing. So that’s a crucial part, but for those who really love dance, as adults we should offer free lessons, or work to give the student a scholarship. However, I believe that the student’s willingness to pursue an aesthetic subject such as dance and respect for that subject is very important.
How do you rate Sri Lankan dancers compared to dancers from other parts of the world?
I believe there is no such comparison. Our dance form is still coming out with its name. It is certainly not as well-known as some forms of dance, but it has actually attracted the attention of many outside Sri Lanka, especially in Europe and Asia. Anything very traditional does not get much attention in the modern developing world. Only contemporary styles have emerged, but the techniques used in it are traditional in a new way and I see it as a development. Many dancers realise its value and return to the roots.
What would you say is your goal in life?
I wish to have a dance school where students can come, learn, live and share knowledge, in India you call it the gurukul. I am currently working for it. Otherwise, I will continue to practice and learn other dance techniques while teaching my students. Whenever Shamitha has a dance show, he puts in all his efforts, learning to dance has always been his ongoing process and it is happening even now for him. He is always blooming with ideas for which he trains his students extremely well. As an actor, he travels extensively for concerts and teaching workshops around the world. So if you are in Sri Lanka or know that he is performing in your country his show is never to be missed.