Sri Lankans fly in a bit of home
Jessie Rock has seen the small but spunky local Sri Lankan community in action. Along with transplants from the south Asian land, the North Dakota State University graduate student helped throw two benefit dinners at the Hotel Donaldson, which ra...
Jessie Rock has seen the small but spunky local Sri Lankan community in action.
Along with transplants from the south Asian land, the North Dakota State University graduate student helped throw two benefit dinners at the Hotel Donaldson, which raised $12,000 for Sri Lankan tsunami survivors in the wake of the 2005 Indian Ocean disaster.
So Rock wasn't surprised to see the same group spring to action to give the local community a very special gift in return.
The gift in question: eight fire-eating, drum-pounding, gravity-defying dancers, whose first U.S. tour took them straight to Fargo-Moorhead. This time, the foray into Sri Lankan culture wasn't clouded by tragedy.
"It was so wonderful to have these dancers come here and just share in a celebration," Rock says of the Thalgahagoda Dance Troupe, now amid a monthlong showcase of traditional Sri Lankan moves in the area and beyond.
Area Sri Lankans rallied to bring the troupe over. The visit is a double treat - a uniquely Sri Lankan cultural experience that transports them back home for a night, and a chance to display their heritage to local audiences.
Theja Wijetunga, a researcher at the NDSU plant sciences department, first heard of Thalgahagoda from a Sri Lankan friend who saw them perform at a wedding. The troupe, which won first place at the 2002 International Folklore Festival in Croatia, specializes in traditional dance, featuring elaborate costumes and masks and precise, graceful movements dating back centuries.
A few years ago, Wijetunga invited Sri Lankan college students to explore traditional dance together, and a small all-female group formed. Some of the ladies
had hardly done any dancing, but nostalgia fueled a new-found interest in the form.
Wijetunga was pleasantly surprised by the feedback to their campus performances. She decided to look into bringing the Thalgahagoda troupe over. She readily enlisted the troupe's leader, Premadasa Thalgahagoda. "He told me it's a great thing that these girls come here and want to keep the dances going," Wijetunga said.
Next, Wijetunga and friends lined up engagements at area colleges and solicited donations from local businesses.
The eight dancers - five men and three women - arrived here in mid-September. The Sri Lankan community -about eight families and a few dozen college students - buzzed with excitement. Asoka Marasinghe, a Minnesota State University Moorhead chemistry professor, put them up in his Moorhead home. A group of Sri Lankan women went on an overnight cooking marathon.
The troupe performed to a mix of Southeast Asian and American audiences at Concordia College, NDSU and the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks. They danced at a Fargo Montessori school and at the Hotel Donaldson.
"All of Fargo's people are very kind," says troupe member Mahinda K. Wimalasiri. "Very good clapping."
Now they're off for gigs at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul and St. Cloud (Minn.) State University before returning for a final performance at Fargo's Green Market on Oct. 14.
"Even in a small place like Fargo, N.D., you get this sort of interest," says Yoke Sim Gunaratne of Fargo's Cultural Diversity Resources, who helped with preparations. "That shows we're becoming more open and welcoming as a community."
The troupe's hosts from the college dance troupe joined the visitors on stage after mastering a dance from a DVD the troupe sent in advance. "I never had any idea I'd get to perform with a professional troupe," said Thanusha Koralage, an NDSU sophomore. "I felt like I am back home."
If you go
- What: Thalgahagoda Dance Troupe
- When: 5 p.m. Oct. 14
- Where: The Green Market, 623 NP Ave., Fargo
- Info: $20 for dinner and a show. (701) 356-0005
Readers can reach Forum reporter Mila Koumpilova at (701) 241-5529