In conversation with Kathak icon, Veronika Dassanayake | Sunday Observer

In conversation with Kathak icon, Veronika Dassanayake

27 August, 2023

I interviewed the remarkable Veronika Dassanayake, a versatile artist and Kathak dance lecturer. She is a fusion of Sri Lankan and Indian artistic and cultural traditions, and her contribution to the performing arts is characterized by the development of an innovative style that expands the boundaries of expression and artistic dimensions.

Veronika played a pivotal role as the mentor and supporter of the Guru Abinandhan, Guru Dakshina classical Kathak recital. This event featured a remarkable mother-daughter performance by Chithreena Medis, a gifted Kathak dancer, and her mother, Thelma Medis, both of whom are students of Veronika Dassanayake.

This performance marked the debut of a Kathak mother-daughter duo in Sri Lanka, adding a unique and emotional element to the show.

In conversation with Veronika here’s what I found ou:

Q: What does ‘Guru Abinandhan, Guru Dakshina classical kathak recital’ signify?

A: At my Kathak Kendra, we aim to produce a fully capable artist. Someone who will perform and learn this beautiful form of performing art for their lifetime. Therefore this performance aimed to present the wealth of tradition and elegance inherent in Kathak. It emphasized on its intricate footwork, rhythmic motions, and expressive narrative aspects that define this classical dance form. Chithreena Medis and Thelma Medis joined forces, merging their unique artistic styles and synchronized choreography to craft a lasting impression on the audience. And presenting themselves as full-fledged Kathak Dancers.

Q: Was this show a success, who sponsored it?

A: It was a massive success. The chief guest was Prof. Ankuran Dutta, Director of Swami Vivekananda cultural center. The team including musicians, tabla - Peshala Manoj, vocal - Asitha Athapattu, Heshan Gamage, flute - Damindha Athaudha, sitar - Mahesh Padmakumara, stage director Dharshana Piyarathna, were very helpful in making this show a success. The event was sponsored by Dr. Ajith Mendis.

Q: When did you start your Kathak school?

A: I started it three years ago in Kottawa. It is known as the ‘Sri Bridhavan Katha Kendra’.

Q: How did you get started as a Kathak dancer?

A: I embarked on my dance journey while schooling. I loved various forms including Kandyan dancing, drumming, and folk dancing. I received the ICCR (Indian Council for Cultural Relationship) scholarship to study at Bhatkhande Music University in Lucknow, India, shortly after completing my Advanced Level examination.

I obtained the Bachelor of Performing Arts Degree with first-class honours in India. Thereafter my intensive training in Kathak dance and refinement of my skills were conducted under the guidance of the renowned Kathak exponent Pt. Arjun Mishra, a disciple of the legendary Birju Maharaj. I also earned first-class distinctions in Nipun and Visharadh in Kathak Dance from Bhatkande Sangeet Vidyapeeth in Lucknow, India. Additionally, I completed her Master’s degree in Arts at the University of Visual and Performing Arts in Colombo. In 2016 I got a request from the army dancing team to start an Indian dancing team. Thereafter, I joined the Army as a Major. I started doing my own classes at this point and then eventually opened my own centre.

Q: What do you aim to achieve from Sri Bridhavan Katha Kendra?

A: I wish to create artists, kathak dancers. I require them to train with me for a minimum of five years. Then they will be introduced to the dancing community as an artist.

Q: What about kathak do you like?

A: I first studied Kandyan dancing. My mentor was Prof. Vidhawathi Rajapaksha. She introduced me to the Kathak dancing style and then I kind of got interested in it and wanted to pursue it. This dance has foot work, hand gestures, and an element of acting. A Kathak dancer is essentially a story teller. I love how expressive it is, it is a wonderful form of art.

Q: How would you describe yourself as a dancing professional?

A: I believe I am someone who embodies dancing as part of my life. I am constantly learning, I am constantly polishing my skills.

Q: What advice would you give to the new generation of dancers?

A: I’d say pick something you are passionate about. Keep yourself updated with knowledge, skills and new styles, and keep dancing. Don’t give up dancing when you get married or become a mother, keep nurturing your talent and you can go a long way.

Q: What’s new for you for the rest of the year?

A: We are planning to do a tour of India this year. Further we had a production called ‘Krishna Leela’ and ‘Shiva’ showcased to the Indian audience, so we are planning to showcase these shows to the Sri Lankan audience.

Further we are planning to do another show based on a female character and based on Jathaka stories. We are also planning something big with the Indian cultural center and a music video is in the works. We have a lot of exciting things planned ahead.

Q: How can anyone interested join Sri Bridhavan Katha Kendra or sponsor their shows?

A: Anyone who is interested in being a part of our shows or interested in sponsoring our shows could contact us.

Finally, Veronika expressed her gratitude to her family, everyone involved in the Guru Abinandhan, Guru Dakshina classical Kathak recital, and the Army Commander Vikum Liyanage, and his wife.