Are you curious about ancient dance performances that comes with plenty of interactions, visuals, strong facial expressions and gestures in India? Just like how visual and interactive Blue Man Group is in their shows all over the US, but what makes them so special to the Deaf community? They blast your eyes with flashing colors, visual actions and strong vibrations from their bass in their music, but in a Kathakali, you will see strong facial expressions and gestures. They actually have around 26 different “signs” that communicates certain themes and words in their shows.
Now, let me share you a story about my experience watching a Kathakali.
Dalton and I went to Fort Kochi to check out the Chinese Fishing Nets as it had been well known for that. In the meanwhile, we also looked around for a Kathakali performance. Then we unexpectedly bumped into a Deaf man whose name was Nixon. He worked at this Kathakali theater for over 25 years. Coincidence, perhaps? — Yeah, I think so!
Check out the video to get to learn a little more about Nixon and his theater!
Here’s a little background on Kathakali:
The word Kathakali literally means ‘Story-Play’. It is a group performance, in which dancers take various roles in performances traditionally based on themes from Hindu mythology. Kathakali is one of the oldest theatre forms in the world. It is originated in the country’s present day state of Kerala during the 17th century and has developed over the years with improved looks, refined gestures and added themes besides more ornate singing and precise drumming. The themes of the Kathakali are religious in nature.
A Kathakali performance is a major social event. They generally start at dusk and go through out the night. Kathakali is usually performed only by men. Female characters are portrayed by men dressed in women’s costume. However, in recent years, women have started to become Kathakali dancers. The actors rely very heavily on hand gesture to convey the story. These hand gestures, known as mudra, are common through out much of classical Indian dance.
One point of that day, I asked them if they would paint my face —I was curious what they would paint on me if they actually did. Turns out I had to shave my beard. In this case, I did choose to keep my beard, otherwise I would want to perform with the art on my face and their costume. Nonetheless, I’d rather to watch and show my appreciation for their art and culture which I’m glad I did!
Another thing I learned from that conversation is that the mixture of the make up paint is made out of substances and herbs that are not easy to find, which also made them extremely expensive. That’s why they prefer to apply it on clear face to get the best out of their art. It will cost $200 to get on that stage.
Not only that, applying the paint is an elaborate process lasting for approximately 3 hours. Actors go through several stages of applying and drying. When paint is completely dry, it’s nearly impossible for the art on the face to smudge even if you have been sweating buckets.
Below are the rest of the pictures from that night.
(“So long!” in Hindi)