Vannama: A classical dance form and its musical structure

The world of music 46,3.2004:49-64

##This article examines an example of a classical dance form called vannama, with particular focus on its musical structure. Through this example the richness of Sinhalese percussion music is also examined. The Sinhalese culture in Sri Lanka has developed a rich, locally diverse and highly developed drumming tradition which we can trace to the ffth century B.C. Drums are the main instruments played in traditional healing rituals and Buddhist ceremonies as well as in performances on the modern dance stages today. Here drumming is mostly connected to dance; it transmits powerful energy to the dancers and unfolds in precise and differentiated rhythmical structures which the dancers translate into steps and movements. Through the centuries drums were played only by men and the dance masters (gurunanseje), who pass the ability and knowledge of dance and drumming to the next generation, have also been male. But in recent decades more and more female dancers have taken to the public stage and also more women (considerably more than men) have studied dance and drumming in order to become dance teachers for public and private schools. To do that of course they rnust at least learn to musically accompany their own dance classes and for that reason there is an increasing number of women who are drumming. All including students from foreign countries - as the author has been for five years - must study and rehearse the canonical repertory of which the vannama - are an important part.##

Keywords: percussion (Sri Lanka), musicology, drumming (Sri Lanka), healing rituals, ritual and music, dancers, female dancers, vannama