An Indian dance troupe visited the University of Miami on Wednesday to demonstrate Kathakali, a traditional dance from southern India. The artists travel to universities across the United States to educate students on the art form. Their performance at the University of Miami, which took place at the UC Patio, was their first on a Florida campus.
The event was coordinated by religious studies professor Arthi Devarajan, who heard about the group from a colleague. She brought up the idea to the chair of the religious studies department, who helped make the performance possible.
Devarajan said she hopes the performance will create a visual experience for students to see religious life in other cultures.
“Sometimes when we see something from another culture and we experience it, hear the music, and see the different colors and materials that are involved, it makes us think a lot more about the way the human body participates in religious experience,” she said. “I think Kathakali is a very clear example of how religious life can be experienced through the body.”
The kathakali performers, three men from Kerala, India, graduated from Kerala Kalamandalam University, a fine arts institution. The university is the highest institution of training for the style of dance, similar to Julliard for western ballet, according to Devarajan.
The artists are trained to use all the muscles in their face and as well as body language to convey stories from Indian mythology using traditional theatrical techniques.
“The movements are structured, and later the emotions come in,” said Viswanatha Kaladharan, a professor and senior artist at the Kalamandalam Institute who is the head of the Kathakali dance troupe.
He explained viewers will get a sense of the specialized style of training the performers go through to learn the movements.
“They would also understand the dominance of form in the Indian traditional performing arts and the grueling exercises the students have to do repeatedly for years and the kind of magical impact it does have on the audience,” Kaladharan said.
In addition to the facial expressions and body gestures, kathakali performers also use makeup and costumes to tell the message.
“The headdresses, makeup, masks and costumes are visually stunning,” said Devarajan.
The makeup is a type of colored flour that can then be spread on the performer’s face. Kaladharan explained that the colors of the makeup serves as a general differentiation between kathakali characters depending on the character’s qualities.
The performers held a makeup demonstration in the UC before the performance to show the type of makeup used and its purpose.
Senior Rahul Sheth thought seeing the performers apply makeup for the dance provided a better understanding of all details that play a role in the art.
“I think it adds another layer of depth to the performance,” he said. “When you go see performances, you only see the finished product, but right now we get to see the entire process and how much more involved it is than we expect.”