Shantala Shivalingappa, Thaji Dias & Ruvin De Silva

Human existence is at a point in time where reimagining the day-to-day has become a quest that we seek through virtual lens. In turn, the digital realm provides us with myriad perspectives. Recently, a serendipitous meeting occurred between two renowned performers. Like the motion and fluid gesture of an artistically choreographed dance, Shantala Shivalangappa and Thaji Dias met on an encounter to exchange ideas and cultural underpinnings, which was beautifully captured on film in monochrome by videographer, Ruvin de Silva. This happenstance took place at Rithihi, Alfred House Gardens, a space of much artistic significance thereupon cultivating a riveting performative dialogue between artists. Meant to be felt and resonated with virtually, the artists set out to capture intricately each movement and motion; the performers Thaji and Shanthala, similar in spirit with their expertise in the field of dance languidly echo a story while director and videographer Ruvin encapsulates this tale in a moving picture.

Shantala Shivalingappa, was born in Madras, India, brought up in Paris. She dedicated herself to one of the eleven major Indian classical dances, Kuchipudi, and received an intense and rigorous training. She has performed in many plays including Maurice Béjart (“1789…et nous”), Peter Brook (for whom she played Miranda in “The Tempest” and Ophelia in “Hamlet”), Bartabas (“Chimère”), Pina Bausch (“O Dido”, “Néfès”, and “Bamboo Blues), Amagatsu (“Ibuki”). Shanthala’s encounter at Rithihi was with Thaji Dias, who, previously featured on ARTRA Magazine, February Edition 40, 2019, is the granddaughter of the dance icon Vajira Chitrasena. She pursued Kandyan dancing at the age of seven and has performed as a member of the Dance Company to many local and international audiences and festivals around the world. Videographer, Ruvin is also an actor, photographer and musician. He has performed in ‘Chatroom’ (2007) directed by Tracy Holsinger, ‘Paraya’ (2013-2014) directed by Arun Welandawe-Prematilleke and Vimukthi Jayasundera’s film ‘Dark in the White Light’ (2014) to name a few. In conversation with these artists, we discuss the nuances and intricacies that went into the experimental performative piece. 

Q | This performance was intended to be viewed through digital mediums, in your opinion did the change in medium create a newer performance experience for you?

Thaji | Frankly I think I can speak for me and Shantala when I say the medium of how it was going to be viewed was not even on our minds when we started sharing movement with each other. Yes we were aware of the space we were working in, in that moment but we were unaware of this being captured on film, so immersed in our exchange. The whole point was not for us to adapt to the camera but for the camera to adapt to the way we were moving. Shantala had a vision in mind which she shared with Ruvin so there was a lot on Ruvin’s hands because finally how the story was portrayed was going to depend on his editing. We the dancers were just completely in the moment with each other engrossed in what we were doing. The online medium of performance, teaching, interacting is something I am still getting used to. It was a story of two dancers from two different disciplines, under lockdown, sharing their passion for the dance with each other, giving each other a bit of hope, a bit of happiness and awakening during these uncertain times. 

Q | Your encounter took place at Rithihi which is a manifestation of culture and heritage through fabric. How did this surrounding accentuate your encounter?

Shantala | Rithihi offers a spacious and artistic surrounding, where each object, texture, arrangement, color, shape and drape has been tastefully thought of and curated in a very elegant, refined, pleasing and harmonious manner. It almost naturally invites to be considered as a space which can be alive beyond the activities of Rithihi as a store, and I was excited that ours was one of the first encounters to take place there, as if we were opening the door to a new avenue.

Once Thaji and I started to interact though, my focus was solely on her and on the moves we were practicing and learning from each other. The body sub-consciously adapts to the space in which it moves and fits into the offered possibilities, without my thinking about it. It is only later, while seeing the video that I realized that the space, with its specific character and all its details, is an actor of the film in its own right, and creates a particular ambience with a specific flavour and aesthetic, framing the dance moves in a myriad ways and playing a definite though discreet role in the visual design of the encounter. I love the way our cinematographer, Ruvin, moved around the space to offer so many varied perspectives of our encounter. This was made possible by the way Rithihi’s interior is designed, and is also an expression of Ruvin’s personal way of looking at the dancers and the dance.


19th August, 2020 Performance Art