The 14th Sri Lanka Day Expo — organized by Sri Lanka Foundation (SLF) — was held in Pasadena, California last month. In order to not miss the “Pageant of Lanka” Parade, I arrived shortly after the festival opened at 10 a.m.; forgetting that on a scorching summer day like July 20th in SoCal, festivity usually does not fizz until twilight.
The event schedule was finally revealed in the hardcopy program distributed at the festival. Throughout the day, the SLF Academy of Performing Arts’ members danced and played various instruments, including the Sri Lankan one-sided drums raban and dandu bera — made of bamboo trunk, etc. The preteen performers must have practiced for hours after school and during weekends; this project helped them learn Sri Lankan customs like they would have if their families had not immigrated to the States.
2018 marked the 150th anniversary of commercial tea cultivation in Sri Lanka. Thath Jith Dance Academy performed a tea dance laden with energetic moves and uptempo music. How could drudgery such as tea-picking invoke sanguine emotions and formulate jolly dances? (All Sri Lankan tea dances on YouTube recorded similar mood and milieu.) The appearance of a Chaplinesque character interrupted the dance; he eventually joined in so all ended harmoniously. After the performance, the emcee asked the audience who the character had been: A symbol of colonial oppression, of course! To sing and dance wholeheartedly becomes even more critical in predicament: Not only for survival but for a civilization to flourish.
Festivals like the Sri Lanka Day Expo are one of the reasons that I make Southern California home. Sri Lanka is one of any lifetime’s must-visit destinations — at this festival I got a preview.
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