- Samudhi Rangika Jayasinghe on her journey as a dancer
Having studied Sri Lankan dance traditions like Kandyan, Pahatharata, and Sabaragamuwa, Samudhi Rangika Jayasinghe decided to go beyond country borders by completing a special degree in Bharatanatyam at the University of the Visual and Performing Arts, before leaving for Indonesia on a scholarship to study that country’s various dance traditions in 2018.
She is currently in Sri Lanka, reading for a postgraduate degree, and claims the title as the only Sri Lankan to have studied traditional dance in Indonesia, before returning to her motherland to teach and perform it. Since Indonesian dance is not a topic widely discussed in Sri Lanka, The Morning Brunch had a chat with Samudhi Rangika Jayasinghe to learn more about her journey.
“Since I was a child, I have been interested in dance. My mother encouraged and supported me a lot,” she said, adding that she got her foundation in dance at Sripalee College Horana, where she schooled. Here, Jayasinghe studied Kandyan, Pahatharata, and Sabaragamuwa dance traditions and even received various awards for her skills.
She didn’t come from a family of dancers, but her parents had an appreciation for the arts, and Jayasinghe’s father is a poet, songwriter, and singer. She said they influenced her greatly, adding: “I followed the right path because my parents supported me.”
“Once I started university, I thought of studying a foreign dance style, since I had already studied local dance traditions, and chose Bharatanatyam,” Jayasinghe said, explaining that she was one of two Sri Lankans chosen for an annual scholarship awarded by the Embassy of Indonesia in Sri Lanka in 2018, which is how she made her way to Bali to study their dance traditions, languages, and culture.
She returned to Sri Lanka, and currently works as a visiting lecturer in folk dance at the University of the Visual and Performing Arts.
“In addition to Indonesian dance, I have also studied Chinese and Japanese dance styles, worked at the Thailand Cultural Centre, and toured various countries. I have a special degree in Bharatanatyam, and I have also completed exams in Kathak dance up to the Visharada stage at the Bhatkhande Sanskriti Vishwavidyalaya in Lucknow, India.”
Jayasinghe is also a dance teacher at St. John’s Maha Vidyalaya in Kalutara, while also managing her own dance academy, Sanka Samudhi Dance Academy. In addition to this, she teaches the free dance classes offered by the Indonesian Embassy.
When asked how she moved from Bharatanatyam to Indonesian dance traditions, Jayasinghe said: “Indonesia is a country made up of several islands, so while in Sri Lanka, for instance, we have Kandyan dancing, Pahatharata dancing, and Sabaragamuwa dancing, they have around 3,000 dancing styles, with dances differing from island to island. There is a lot to learn in the country.”
While there are some similarities between Indonesian dance traditions and local traditions, as well as Bharatanatyam, Jayasinghe said it was at first challenging for her, as their poses are difficult and facial expressions are different.
“Bali has a Hindu culture, and it is beautiful and looks like a fantasyland. There is so much to learn, so I really enjoyed my time there and gained a lot of knowledge,” she said, adding that she is planning to return to Indonesia soon, which she couldn’t do since graduating due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, which restricted travel.
Since she is the only dancer in Sri Lanka to spread awareness and knowledge about Indonesian dance traditions, she is frequently invited by the Indonesian Embassy to perform at their events, and has become known for her work with Indonesian dance traditions, over her work with Bharatanatyam and Kathak.
Jayasinghe’s husband, Sanka Priyadesh, has been instrumental in her journey as a dancer, and he is the only Sri Lankan to have completed five full years of training in Kathakali at the Kerala Kalamandalam. She added that they both have original dance costumes, which they use when performing.
Sanka Priyadesh is also a visiting lecturer and is involved with the Sri Lanka Army dance group. “His support has been immense, since he is also a dancer, and has helped me balance my professional and family life,” she said, calling him her strength.
While Jayasinghe’s ambition or goal is to become a professor in dance and go forward in this field, she also plans on writing a book. She has also worked in the media, appeared in advertisements, and acted in two movies; one by Nihal Fernando, where she played a child psychiatrist, and the other being Sunil Ariyaratne’s Kadira Divyaraja, in which she plays Lord Kataragama’s mother, Parvati, a role she landed due to her training as a Kathak dancer.