Sri Lanka Express

Expat children showcase Sri Lankan culture at Asian Pacific Heritage Celebrations

Report by Anjalika Silva
Once again, the expatriate children and adult families came together to produce a showcase of dance and their contribution in song to pay tribute to Sri Lanka among many other Asian countries.  This is a celebration that is held in the month of May each year since President Obama gave credence to the contribution of Asian immigrants with the signing of a special White House Initiative in November 2009, declaring May as the month of Asian Heritage.  Since 2010, Asian groups are celebrated in concert halls including the Kennedy Center, festivals at the Smithsonian as in the past and in US Federal Government offices in celebration of Asian communities and their contribution to the country.

This year the recent celebration on May 5th was held at the George Mason University Center for the Arts in Virginia.  The production was organized and initiated by Dr. Mira Yang who is the, Professor of Voice, George Mason University Virginia, President of the Asian American Music Society in Washington, and also a member of the Community Advisory Board of the Kennedy Center.

All performing countries had their country displays.  The Sri Lanka Embassy in Washington DC contributed an impressive display of material for visitors who stopped by to pick up brochures and examine the intricate masks and display of drums and handmade items.

The opening address for the evening was given by Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the United States, H.E. Prasad Kariyawasam. The ambassador referred to the rich culture and traditions the Sri Lankan immigrants and their children bring to the mix from the small island of 20 million people.

The performances for Sri Lanka were by students trained at the US Lanka Dance Foundation in Washington D.C., a private dance foundation under instruction from Sudesh Mantillake and his wife Vajira Mantillake. The performers are mainly children born in the USA who train in traditional dance forms following all the traditional initiation requirements before they perform. 

Sri Lanka opened the performance with three dance forms the first being the Ukusa Vannama (The dance of the Hawk) performed by Dehara Weeraman, Manik Jayawardena, Anjana Hevaganinge, Prabuddi Umanda Weerasinghe and Vishaka N. Gunasekara.

Next was Wadiga patuna the dance ritual featuring healers who came to Sri Lanka from the Wadiga region. The young performers were Shanuka Navaratne, Dilkini. K. Jayasundara, Tharuli S. Edirisinghe, Kyoma Algama, Roshali Abeywarna and Anuki N.M. Liyanage.

The last item performed was Parampara the meaning of which depicts the passing of the ancient dance traditions from one generation to another. The performance included the participation of their teachers Sudesh Mantillake and Vajira Mantillake who passed the mantle of tradition to the younger dancers Dehara Weeraman, Ravindu Hevaganinge, Roshali Abeywarna, Shanuka Navaratne, Dilkini K. Jayasundara.

With encouragement from their teachers and parents, the children born in the United States devoted a great deal of time and effort to keep up the ancient traditional art of Sri Lankan dance. These performances are entirely voluntary and not with the direction of or financial support from either Sri Lankan or US foundations for the arts.  All expenses are borne by the parents.  They are true Cultural Ambassadors for Sri Lanka. 

Among other performances were a very interesting mix of traditional and contemporary music and dance performances from China, Korea and Japan. The enchanting string music of the Chinese Guzheng players performed traditional and American music that included “Swanee River” also known as “Old Folks at Home” by an American composer Stephen Foster.  The performances included were by the Capital community Church Choir, Chinese Breeze 6 Singers, Washington Dunhuang Guzheng Academy, Washington Japanese Singing Ensemble, Washington Korean Wind Ensemble, Weina Dance and DPH’s Music & Arts.

The evening ended with a finale of lead singers and dance performers from all the countries represented singing a medley of songs from various countries.  They included “Lanka Lanka Pembara Lanka’, “Arirang”, “Sakura” and “Jasmine” in the various languages.  Finally, it was a tribute to the United States of America, the home of the performers when the group ended with “America The Beautiful” and “God Bless America” bringing to a close a wonderful evening of entertainment of a very high standard that was a salute to diversity in America.

Once again, for the sixth year in a row, it was my pleasure to coordinate and provide guidance for this effort on behalf of all the beautiful children of Sri Lanka who carry a positive image of their Sri Lankan Heritage in the United States of America.