This blog will document the four days that I spent getting ready for my Arangettam performance, in the role of Krishna to open the Diwali celebrations on Tuesday 10 November at the Gopalakrishna temple, Amaravathy, Fort Cochin, Kerala. This will give you an insight to what a Kathakali performer needs to learn and apply in performance.
This day I focused on the footwork for the Arangettam. The dance that I was learning is called Purrapadu and includes many rhythms (Talas) and different figures of movement (Kalashams). Before doing the dance I needed to do the Kathakali salutation (always done before any work starts). Also this day I learnt to do Krishna’s curtain look (tiranokku), which involved being the facial expression of Srimgaaram, meaning love, and hands in the mud ram Kathakam, showing Krishna playing the flute
This day started with the salutation then working again on footwork. I then learnt that I needed to do lots of movement with the curtain after the Krishna eyes. This is where the performer holds the curtain (Tirasilla) and then has the lots band around the neck and one end in each hand. My teacher told me clearly to have my arms up all the time during performance at chest height. I then learnt an extended salutation that had 4 variations. This is done behind the curtain before the performance starts, to bless the space and the other performers.
This was the first day that I got to work with the musicians and singers. For Kathakali everything it punctuated by the musicians: eye movements, footwork, kicks, changes in direction, hand movements etc. There are also sung sections that accompany certain movements. The challenge for me at this stage was that I had never heard these rhythms or songs before, and the rhythms being played were not the same as the rhythms I had been told to dance. I had not come across this juxtaposition in music and movement before. This was a new challenge.
The day before I performed I had the chance to try on the crown, put on the skirt and wear run everything with
the stage hands (holding the Tirasilla) and musicians. In Kerala at this time of year it is about 38 degrees celsius and very humid. I was in a room with no ac under hot lights, and after an hour in my hot costume I thought I would feint. This moment enabled me to appreciate what it must be like for an actor who is in a full Kathakali play that can go for up to 6 hours. The crown I was wearing weighed 12kg and the skirt was 20kg.
Here is the performance, after all the blessings and salutations had been done behind the curtain. Pay attention to the way the singing and percussion blend with the movements.
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