Celebrating a shared China-Lanka history in Colombo

By May Fong Yee
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, December 19, 2011
Adjust font size:

The 'Nelum Pokuna (Lotus Pond) Mahinda Rajapaksa Performing Arts Theatre' was declared open by President Mahinda Rajapaksa last week. The 7-storyed theatre is built on a model based on the Polonnaruwa Nelum Pokuna (Lotus Pond) and the financial assistance came from the Government of China.

I was most fortunate to witness the December 15th grand opening of Sri Lanka's new performing arts center gifted by the People's Republic of China (PRC). The Nelum Pokuna (Lotus Pond) Mahinda Rajapakse Centre or NPMRC is impressive in both its exterior and interior design. From the vantage of a seco nd-row centre seat I highly enjoyed the Sri Lankan and Chinese dance dramas, both historical tales woven with lovely choreography, costumes and sets, and amazing high-tech special effects thanks to this new state-of-the-art theatre.

Sitting in the elegantly designed theater of deep burgundy with dark wood accents, you look on warm red velvet curtains, which open to reveal a stage equipped with the latest multimedia creative facilities, dazzling the audience as the performances unfold. The innovative exterior seven-story design comes from an ancient lotus pond in Polonnavura, the old capital northeast of Colombo.

As a Chinese Canadian, married to a Sri Lankan, based in Colombo for a decade, and for years an English book editor in Beijing with the Chinese Literature and Foreign Languages Presses, I was very moved to witness this marking of China-Lanka friendship. Working as ‘foreign experts' in China, we were given the chance to see many top-notch concerts, acrobatics, etc., at impressive Beijing theaters including in the Imperial Palace. We also saw a world-famous Chinese opera at the newly opened National Performing Arts Center next to Tiananmen Square, "the Egg" which generated some controversy in its design.

The new NPMR in central Colombo, next to the National Art Gallery and a big park, has comfy roomy seats, designed acoustics curves, along with wireless headsets available for simultaneous translation in different languages. Though it lengthened the long evening, it was still good to hear quadrilingual speeches, in Sinhala, Tamil, English and Chinese, given the occasion's spirit of cross-cultural exchange.

President Mahinda Rajapakse's speech in Sinhala thanking the Chinese government, was preceded by an inspiring speech in Chinese (with English translation) by the PRC's National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) Vice-Chair Zhang Meiying, elegant in her traditional black silk gown. She spoke of this Center enriching a "time-honored" China-Lanka friendship, from ancient times 1,600 years ago when the monk Fa Xian arrived here, to the modern phase, next year commemorating 60 years of the significant "Rubber-Rice Pact" and 55 years of diplomatic relations She emphasized that that the new Center should also benefit all the people of Sri Lanka.

Art for the People

We hope these and similar shows at the NPMR Center will soon be open and affordable to all Sri Lankans. Although many enjoyed watching the evening in extended live or repeat TV broadcasts, one really must go to the theater to experience the brilliant energy and vibrant visuals and music of the live performance. The two opening dance dramas made very effective use of special features, dazzling the audience with the huge digital video backdrops, to present gorgeous tropical sunrises/sunsets, the full moon, or dramatic lightning storms and ships tossed on vast waves at sea; lovely dancers floating or flying through mid-air from ceiling wires; and sets and actors ebbing as different parts of the stage sink down, to magically rise afresh, or as the live orchestra accompanying the local opera rising in the pit in front.

The Sri Lankan opera, about Fa Xian's arrival 16 centuries ago, ends with the monk returning home to China after overcoming another arduous sea journey, carrying back many Buddhist texts. These sacred books were gifted him in the ancient Lankan central capital of Anuradhapura, where Fa Xian studied at the ancient university of Abhayagiriya. Historically Buddhist texts were first recorded here, then after being brought to China, translated into Chinese. Many lost texts have been retranslated back into Sinhala by a multilingual Lankan monk studying at Beijing University. The Voyage to the Heartland, with its powerful still timely message of sharing of knowledge and dharma, closes with these words on the screen from the Sri Lankan creators: "Tribute to the People of China."

Universal Language

The local audience seemed to deeply respond to the romantic Guangxi ballet, Romance on the Marine Silk Road, set in 111 BC. The opera used almost no Chinese language, except in writing on maps and the final love song of the mariner's homecoming. Instead, it relied on the power of expressive movement and melody, speaking to all hearts in the universal language of love, longing and loss.

Earlier, the envoy spoke of China upholding the principle of equality between big and small nations. Both countries having gone through tumultuous challenges and changes. Mme Zhang ended her speech with wishes for the island's progress and the potential of Sri Lanka as a "new Asian miracle," and for the two countries' "strong friendship to continue forever." In a world of growing economic uncertainty and conflict especially westward, increasing shared peace and prosperity to the east and south in decolonizing countries like China and Sri Lanka, perhaps can show an inspiring balance of new and old ways toward a better world for all peoples.

Next week's follow-up article in the Lankan Nation paper will focus on details of the dance dramas, and give a reading of the significance of remembering aspects of our shared pre-colonial ancient history, especially when threatened dominant powers are still threatening to divide and control us. I hope with my basic Chinese language to also help fill in Sri Lankan readers on some related, specific Chinese language and cultural issues.

The eventful evening at the NPMRC theater ended with the hundreds of Sri Lankan performers joining the Chinese troupe in their bows: a truly dazzling array of artistes in colors and gold filling the new stage, all waving during the final standing ovation from the 1,300 capacity audience. Wondrous spectacle, but filled with meaning, for these modern days of much isolated forgetting, the inspiration of shared remembering and creative sharing of history.

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of China.org.cn.

Print E-mail Bookmark and Share

Go to Forum >>0 Comment(s)

No comments.

Add your comments...

  • User Name Required
  • Your Comment
  • Racist, abusive and off-topic comments may be removed by the moderator.
Send your storiesGet more from China.org.cnMobileRSSNewsletter