30 October 2012

Culture and Conflict Programme: Sri Lanka 2011

Organisation: nATANDA Dance Theatre of Sri Lanka
Project: SINTAMU
Location: Colombo, Sri Lanka
When: March 2011 – June 2011



nATANDA Dance Theatre is a modern dance troupe based in Colombo, founded as a nonprofit
organisation by Kapila Palihawadana in 2002. Its choreographic style is distinctive not
only in how it fuses traditional Kandyan dance, ballet, yoga and Bharatha Naatyam, but also
in the way it challenges its dancers to express their individual personalities and bodies in a
collective process. nATANDA investigates the potential of dance for personal development,
social inclusion and peace building. The organisation actively promotes community dance
education through workshops in schools, and attempts to bridge boundaries of ethnicity,
religion and class by seeking to involve dancers of various social backgrounds.

The SINTAMU project consisted of a series of dance workshops and a public performance,
working with young people who have been affected by war to explore the expressive
potential of dance as an instrument for dialogue. Taking as its starting point the use of signs
in human behaviour, a relationship was established with the School for the Deaf in
Ratmalana, a district of Colombo. Members of the nATANDA dance troupe were trained in
the use of American and British sign language systems and incorporated these into their
improvisations. Using sign language, workshops were conducted with the students,
encouraging them to articulate real life situations through dance.

Ranging from ages 14-21, the students and trainers were from a variety of ethnic groups
including Tamil, Muslim, Burger and Sinhalese, reflecting nATANDA’s policy of conducting
dance workshops without any ethnical barriers. Further opportunities were also given to
children from government and international schools to work hand in hand with the children
from the School for the Deaf. This valuable experience enabled both sets of children to learn
about each other’s worlds.

The project culminated in a four-day public performance, SIGNSPEAK, involving the
professional dancers and deaf children. Sign language was used as the basis for developing
a unique set of gestures, poses and movements, depicting the five main emotions
highlighted during the workshops: sorrow, resilience, hope, aggressiveness and anger.

The SINTAMU project addressed the issue of conflict transformation at a local level by
creating a common space for young people to express themselves through dance, and by
building relationships that transcend ethnic boundaries. The project brought together
different communities to work towards a shared goal and presented participants with the
opportunity to find out about diverse cultural beliefs, rituals and customs, encouraging
understanding and respect for diversity. By promoting values such as fair play, team work,
and strengthening confidence and self-esteem, the project highlighted the important role that
dance can play in a multi-ethnic, war affected country. nATANDA Dance Theatre will be
involving some of the participants from the deaf school in a future dance piece and also have
plans to start a disabled dance troupe.

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