This week marks the halfway point of the Sura Medura residency project. We have all settled into a working pattern at the Sunbeach hotel, sharing mealtimes together and then working on each of our own projects during the days, sharing ideas and developments with each other over food and evening gin and tonic watching the sunset from the beach bars lining the beach here at Hikkaduwa. It is always fascinating hearing how everyone’s work is developing, our different perspective and experiences of collaborative and creative work,  and how we are each interacting and engaging with the local community in different ways adds a level of connection to a life beyond the transient beach life in front of the hotel everyday, surfers waiting in the surf for an elusive surf break and a flurry of movement, and a multitude of selfies and tourists watching the sunset.

As much as possible Suba and I have left the beach for the creative haven of the small studio in the village, the space has been used for arts activities by local people from the the village so it feels like we are continuing the creative work here by dancing, drawing and creating here each day. As we cross the busy Galle Road from the hotel and the noise of tuk tuks, high speed buses and tourist traffic, we soon move into the slower and quieter village pace of life. The studio is surrounded by the sounds of local wildlife, each day an opportunity to see reptiles, birds, animals, insects; one day a host of noisy and boisterous monkeys crashing through the trees above us, another day two peacocks regally walking across the meadow in front of the studio being attached by a flock of other smaller noisy birds. Each day we are welcome by Mangalika and her daughter and granddaughter and each day have fresh tea, fruit juice and occasionally hand made coconut roti and sambal, a delicious spicy lunchtime treat, a friendship developing in fragments of English and shared experience between cultures, generations and lives.


Our research together has evolved into a daily class where Suba is teaching some of her Bharata Natyam practice, a classical South Indian dance, and a very different physical training to any dance work I’ve done before, requiring focus and strength to sustain accurate and still postures whilst doing fast moving rhythmic step patterns, it would take a lifetime to perfect but good to be learning gradually, step by step every day. I am sharing elements of a more contemporary improvisation practice, exploring sharing weight, contact and lifts. In learning these practices together we are also discussing how we deepen these practices into making a work together for the final presentations at the end of the residency, seeing the work gradually emerge day by day through the process of making. Currently a body of work is emerging, taking shape into a series of short dance films where I will perform a short Bharata Natyam solo choreographed and directed by Suba, to be filmed in several locations on and around Hikkaduwa. Our dialogue around the artistic work has grown into conversations around identity and politics, Tamil and Sinhala culture and it’s legacy after years of bitter conflict and political unrest, reconciliation and recent political unrest amongst other minority communities, which has flared up in other parts of the country during our stay, and has been present in conversations with local people in our travels around Sri Lanka. How this history has met European identity and culture through colonialism and independence. Through these discussions we have begun to explore ideas for creating a duet, choreographed and directed by Suba, bringing our respective performance skills and identities with the intention to explore intersections between gender, Tamil, Sinhala and European cultures and relationships. Through Suba’s Tamil cultural heritage we have been exploring Tamil identity and visiting Tamil Hindu temples and culture. In one visit to Columbo attending a Bharata Natyam dance class led by a very revered teacher in Sri Lanka, where we shared an early version of the dance material from the dance film much to the delight and curiosity of the young students in the class and their insightful questions seeing a white man dance Bharata Natyam and how we had changed the natural tempo of the dance to a much slower pace for the films.

I have been leaning to write Tamil script and characters, and exploring ways of drawing Bharata Natyam classical dance through watching Suba dance in the studio and making drawings with ink and brushes, using a calligraphic approach, which is beginning to generate some interesting ways of creating hybrid drawings of movement that are expanding my visual repertoire and connecting with seeing the typographic shapes in the Tamil and Sinhala signs here in Sri Lanka.


I have been fascinated and transported by spiritual ceremonies and rituals in Hindu temples in Columbo, Kandy and Galle, leaning about Hindu mythology and ceremonies and attending the prayer rituals, puja, in small local temples and larger more grand temples, all with intricate carvings, ancient paintings and filled with heavily scented incense and hypnotic music.


Connecting a strand of my work from home and passion for working with children and young people I have been thoroughly enjoying our interactions with a beautiful three year old, Samadhi, the granddaughter of Mangalika , whose studio we work in every day. Each day we work Samadhi joins us to play and we create short playful improvised dances, it is always joyous and so creative seeing this little girl interact with us and grow in confidence and capacity, and the joy in her mother and grandmother sharing these interactions.

Taking this interaction further I wanted to work in a local school and contacted Galle International College, where Neil’s son Jack attends nursery.  The school has been developed by a very passionate and knowledgeable head teacher with many years of teaching experience in England and she has set up a very dynamic school in Galle with many international families attending from nursery age through to school leaving age, it was a very welcoming and creative learning environment and I led a session with the nursery children. Despite planning to run a session connecting my drawing work with dance when I met the group I felt that a more creative cultural exchange could be possible, so led an improvised ceilidh with the children and staff to a soundtrack of shooglenifty and other contemporary Scottish folk bands, much to the enjoyment of the staff and children!

Galle International School. Brian Hartley workshop 6 March