India: Kathakali

Kathakali is a stylized Kerala dance-drama known for its make-up, costumes, and body movements with percussion. There are no words; the story is conveyed through hand gestures, expressions, and dance. Traditionally Kathakali begins at night and ends in the early morning, but my homestay directed me to a theatre with a condensed version and front row seats. I arrived an hour early to watch the actors apply their makeup.

What amazed me about Kathakali was the style of dance-drama. It gave particular emphasis to the eyes, nose, and lips. Watching actors dance with their face like this was unreal.To be a master of this art requires a minimum of a six year formal education along with many years studying Kalaripayattu – the martial art of Kerala.

The virtuous protagonist (pachcha) for the show always wear predominately green makeup.

Streaks of red in an otherwise green-painted face symbolize villainy or evilness.

Excessively evil characters have predominantly red makeup and a red beard. While the show I saw was all male (including the below character on the right), since the 1970s women have been allowed to train in Kathakali.

The drama I watched involved the evil man (above) forcing the woman to love him, until her father (below) finds out and inevitably kills him. There would be blood.

As soon as I get ahold of decent internet in May, I’ll upload a video of the eye/nose/lip dancing because it’s hard to explain just how amazing it was. All in all, the show capped off an amazing stay in India.

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