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HeritageINDIA student Anuja Konda retraces dance to its roots
July 29, 2019
| Author: Anuja Konda, HeritageINDIA 2019 cohort
Retracing Dance to Its Roots
As our first day in Kerala was coming to a close, we made our way to the final activity of the evening: a showcase of traditional Kerala dance and martial arts. As we eagerly waited for the performance, we strolled through a small museum that housed various Kerala dance costumes; we each even made our best effort to imitate the poses of the eight dance forms on display.
We were certainly in for a treat with this performance as we had the unique opportunity to watch the dancers put on their vibrant, heavy makeup before the show. In the behind-the-scenes look, they each used pigments acquired from natural substances (such as a powdery yellow rock) to create the colored makeup. They laboriously applied the makeup with a thin coconut leaf splinter. Then they made their way to the esteemed Kathakali make up artist who used rice flour paste to apply intricately cut white paper along the jawline of the dancer. The whole process took 30 minutes!
Then it was showtime. The small theater hosted our cohort and about a ten other tourists. In the first and second row, we were close enough to even hear the breathing of the dancers. The first act was Mohiniyattam. The female dancer donned a white dress with a gold border which resembled the traditional Kerala style. Her expressions and moves were graceful, subtle and extremely elegant. Next was the Kathakali performance accompanied by live music of a drum, symbols, and vocalist. The Kathakali artist displayed the various eye moments, nine distinct emotions, and the main mudras (hand signs). I was awestruck by the movement of the artist’s eyes which made smooth, fast circles as well as piercing glares. A second Kathakali artist also joined the stage as they told a story through dance.
The dance was a rollercoaster of emotion which inspired joy, anger, and even fear in me. My eyes were glued to the performance throughout. After a brief intermission and photo session with the Kathakali dancers, we watched a Bharatanatyam performance. The agile footwork and strong movements were impressive. The dance was a beautiful combination of strength and grace. Last but not least, we watched a demonstration of Kalaripayattu. The sheer athleticism of these martial artists stunned me. They were sharp and purposeful in their movements and displayed astonishing sparring techniques. Finally, the show came to an end. We had a moment to talk to the artists outside the theater venue, then made our way to a waterfront restaurant for dinner.
Overall, this experience was one of my favorites on this trip thus far. As a dancer myself, I give a huge amount of respect to dancers and their art forms. Interestingly enough, way back when I was nine years old, I learned the Kathakali dance form and performed it at various dance showcases across the San Francisco Bay Area. Little did I know that nearly a decade later I would come to Kerala to see first hand the beauty of this dance performed by traditional artistes. To see how the authentic dance form, makeup, costume, and music was still kept alive made me very happy, and I couldn’t have been more proud to connect a significant piece of my life (dance) back to its roots in India.
Anuja is one of 8 students in Indiaspora’s inaugural HeritageINDIA Program. A unique, immersive, 3-week summer program, this initiative gives high school students of Indian descent the opportunity to connect to their ancestral homeland. Students experience and engage with India’s rich and diverse cultural history by completing hands-on projects, participating in stimulating discussions, and building friendships with a cohort that will share in this once-in-a-lifetime experience. With the exciting theme of India’s Riches: History, Culture, Diversity, & Democracy, students visit three areas of India that are geographically and culturally diverse, yet all very much represent India:New Delhi, Gujarat, and Kerala.