After reading online reviews about dance shows in Sri Lanka, I was in some doubt: some people found it very nice, others, on the contrary, did not like it at all. But since I like dance performances in principle, so I decided to go and see for myself. What can I say - my voice joins those who loved it.
What impressed first of all was singularity of the costumes and vigour of the dances which really stand out with energy and activity. There was a lot of acrobatic jumps and whirlings, which are generally not characteristic of an oriental dance, at least, it was surprise to me. Almost all the dances were male. As it turned out, it has developed historically, as the Sinhalese consider it improper for women to dance or act before an audience.
All the dances were performed to the accompaniment of drums. Ancient sources name over 50 sorts of Sinhalese drum but over the centuries the number had dwindled to seven. Four of them are so called classical drums: "gete bera", a double-headed drum measuring about 60 cm in lenght; "yak bera", a heavy, dark-coloured, double-headed cylinder; "davula", a tubby-looking drum with two broad heads made of deer-hide, played with one stick and one bare hand; and "tammettama", a small double kettle-drum, played with ringed cane strikers.
There are two main schools of Sinhalese dance, the up-country or Kandyan dance and the low-country or devil dances. The Kandyan dancer wears the ves: the men have their chests, backs and hips covered with silver plates and wear a headdress also of silver.
The low-country dancer puts a mask representing the demon whose character he takes on in the dance. According to Sinhalese folk belief disease is caused by demons who enter the body and cause its illness. To effect a cure the demon must be persuaded to accept an animal victim in place of his human one. And this is what the priest-dancer tries to achive in the ceremony.
Those who wish to learn Sinhalese dancing professionally come to a special school. Training lasts from 3 to 10 years depending on the complexity of the dances. In the first year, students must complete 12 exercises for the legs, in the second - 12 exercises for the body, in the third - the coordination of movements and the body, and so on.
The ending of the dance show was short but impressive: under the rhythmic clatter of drums a few men started to "play" with fire - they took the burning tourches in the mouth, touched their bare hands and chest with them and in the end just walked along the burning path several times. The meaning of this "dance" is to demonstrate the dancer's power and in this way to frighten the demons.