Kathakali uses versified text as the basis for performance, which is rendered
in the form of traditional music by two musicians, who are also present on the
stage in their civil costume along with the performer. Moreover, the senior
musician functions also as the stage manager. The music is supported by the
application of two percussion instruments called “chenda” and “maddalam”. Both
are wooden drums with animal skin ends. The musicians use brass cymbals for
overall control of time and movements.
The dancer conveys the consistent and transient
moods of the situation and the characters by the effective use of facial
expressions, body acting and dance sequences. He never speaks on the stage. His
miming and hand gesticulations are stylised, symbolic and occasionally abstract
in nature, rather than being realistic. His foot-work, hand gestures and body
movements are perfectly timed and synchronised and they form individual parts
of a composite dynamic structure. It may also be mentioned here that Kathakali
performance is an exclusive domain of male artists. The tempo of music and
percussion are made to vary to suit and to supplement the mood being enacted.
Kathakali has often been described as a complete theatre with all theatrical
aspects finding an expression in its performance.
The script for a conventional Kathakali performance is invariably
based on the Hindu mythology with rare exceptions in the recent times where
episodes from Greek or Christian mythology and even Shakespeare have been
attempted with varying degrees of success. But, it should be stressed here
that, the theme is only an excuse or a vehicle for Kathakali, because what it
attempts is to convey a purely sensory experience where the eye and the ear
play a major role.
Watching a Kathakali performance
is an invigorating experience for the seasoned as
well as for uninitiated, because it has the inherent
capability to convey in ample measure the basic
artistic essence to the human mind. Kathakali, unlike
the Western Ballet, aims at vanquishing the limitations
of space with the aid of its control over time.
And it, indeed, accomplishes its objective in a
most marvelous manner.
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