In a simple room in old Fort Kochi, Kerala, a young man is gradually transforming himself. In one hand he holds a small mirror; in the other the fine brush with which he applies paint to his face. An audience of tourists watches agog, cameras flashing, phones held aloft.
The Kathakali classical dance style originated in Kerala. Even more than other Indian dancing traditions, it relies heavily on facial expressions and gestures, with relatively little in the way of body movements. The dancers use a sort of sign language, with dialogue expressed through hand movements known as mudras, while emotions and mood are expressed through facial and eye movements. The costumes and make-up are equally stylised and symbolic. Performances are based on ancient stories of the gods, and traditionally were very long, although those staged today for the benefit of tourists are much less so.
We went along early, as visitors are encouraged to do, to watch one of the performers apply his make-up. This painstaking task took him almost an hour.
Following the make-up session there was an English language only brief explanation of Kathakali. One of the dancers demonstrated a range of facial movements and gestures and we were told what each meant.
Finally it was time for the performance. We heard a resumé of the story to be acted out, which of course involved gods and demons, and then the two dancers took to the stage with three musicians.
The dance itself lasted about 30 minutes and it was fascinating to see how the facial expressions in particular were used to tell the story. And the man we had watched so carefully applying his make-up was totally transformed!
Hopefully my video gives you a flavour of what we saw.
At the end the dancers posed for photos, inviting audience members up on to the stage to pose with them. That’s not really our thing so we left at this point, happy with the photos we had already taken of this One Person from Around the World, his fellow dancer and musicians.
I visited Kerala in 2017