ARTS The recently conducted Kathakali festival at Kalakshetra was a unique intellectual experience, says SARASWATHI MENON
In the first week of September, a Kathakali festival took place in Kalakshetra. The sea breeze, pulsating drumbeats (kelikottu: playing of drums, gong and cymbals to formally announce a Kathakali performance), light from the vilakku to see dancers in their enlarged tutus prancing around the stage…the whole atmosphere was just filled with an inimitable air of excitement.
This was no ordinary Kathakali festival. These pieces were adaptations of world famous tragedies such as: Psyche, Oedipus, Le Cid, Julius Caesar and Othello. The concept of the execution of such tragedies, to be interpreted in the Kathakali format, seemed quite intriguing. These thoughts coerced me into attending this festival.
The festival, which took place in the Rukmini Arangam (the open air theatre), was one of Kalakshetra’s pioneering efforts in the field of Kathakali. I felt that this experience opened my mind and gave me a unique exposure. The way Kalakshethra modernises art forms and still manages to retain the core is commendable. All the plays had English subtitles (through power point presentations), which made it extremely easy for the audience to understand what was taking place in each scene without having to be fluent in Malayalam/Sanskrit or having prior knowledge about the art form.
These performances were executed with an incredible amount of intensity. For example, in Julius Caesar’s coronation, the procession of Kathakali dancers walked through the audience uttering jubilant cries. The murder of Caesar was too poignant for words. My eyebrows quivered and my eyes widened because I was so engrossed in the play.
I think that these festivals offer such unique cultural and intellectual exposure that we cannot afford to be oblivious to them. It’s, in fact, more fun than you think; it could also be a sophisticated night out with friends. I also learned that Kathakali is an awesome medium for aspiring actors to improve their skills. Next time, such festivals take place in the city, make sure that you do not miss out on them!
Saraswathi is a Std XI student at MCTM International School.
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