Last week’s election results in Sri Lanka spelt a change for the country. For Venuri Perera (pictured), whose work draws majorly on the effect of people living in the aftermath of the Civil War, the results holds a special significance. “I will be going back to a new country now. I am so surprised by these results and my faith is renewed in the people,” says the Sri Lankan artiste and choreographer, quite jet lagged after an 11-hour flight from Berlin, where she performed her latest solo production, Traitriot. The piece evolved during the Gati Summer Residency workshops last year.
The 33-year-old will present her India premiere at the third IGNITE Festival of Contemporary Dance at the Sangeet Natak Akademi, in Delhi, as part of Mixed Bill performance. Her 20-minute contemporary piece explores the idea of a traitor and a patriot and what happens when the lines start blurring. The artiste has been performing outside Sri Lanka since January 4 and missed the celebrations that followed the recent elections.
However, she never had any trouble as an artiste during the previous government under Mahinda Rajapaksa. But Perera recalls a time when works by her colleagues were banned. “Over the last two months, many voices spoke against the government, something that was not possible earlier. If an artiste was performing for the public, they would face strict censors. But as dancers, we could slip under the radar because we did not have to submit a script and quite often, we performed in institutions,” she says.
Traitriot, says Perera, was inspired from real-life stories about those who were labelled as traitors, when they were actually fighting for the rights of the people in Sri Lanka. Many close to her were labelled as traitors and Perera felt she should respond to that on a political, personal and social front. But that was only a concept; to depict it on stage was a different ball game. “When I was looking at working with the body, I did go back to my previous pieces. I went deeper into them,” says Perera, who has been part of the Chitrasena Vajira Kalayathanaya dance ensemble in Colombo for 13 years.
She is known for her challenging and non-conformist responses to society such as her last work, Kaselmaduwa, a commentary on the Buddhist monk-led violence against the minority Muslim community. Her earlier production, Thalattu (lullaby in Tamil) was adapted from a Sinhalese poetry collection, which translates into For Those Who Haven’t Heard, by Sri Lankan author Kumari Kumaragamage. It looked at the lives of displaced people in camps, in the north and the east of the country. “The author had gone into the post-war stories of survivors. She visited the camps during the last stages of the war. For Traitriot, I drew from these references,” says Perera, who premiered her production at the Colombo Dance Platform last year.
But beyond the stories of strife and displacement, Traitriot, says Perera, is very personal as she associates it with elements of gender and stereotypes and what it means to be a female dancer in Sri Lanka. “I would not call myself a feminist because I don’t think I have put in enough work in that space yet. Even though the piece belongs to and takes root in Sri Lanka, I would like people to have multiple readings of the piece,” she says.
The production will be performed as part of Mixed Bill Performance 1 at 6 pm on January 16, at Sangeet Natak Akademi.
Entry is free