Tuesday 7 April 2015

Seen & Heard by Lakshmi Viswanathan - Facial distractions

Our dances, particularly Bharatanatyam relies on Mukhaja Abhinaya.....facial expressions. Kathakali and Koodiyattam are disciplines which give proper and elaborate Shastra- based training to students on the use of eyebrows, eyes, facial muscles and so on. After all that training they cover their faces with thick elaborate make-up, so much so that if we are not close enough we cannot observe the range of this type of expression. Strangely, Bharatanatyam gurus of the old tradition did not impart training in facial expressions. They only used to say - maintain a pleasant expression during nrtta. And as for abhinaya , the gurus showed the correct hastha mudras , the linking moves with the arms, the glance (yatho hastha thatho drishti), the spatial body movement, the rhythm of the feet in synchrony with song and tala. All, practically seated, and rarely getting up! We understood the flow of the sequence, learnt the lyrics and assumed appropriate expressions with very few tips from the gurus. When I think of my gurus, I don't seem to recollect any special lessons for facial expressions. The intuitive grasping of the idea, mood, etc. was our test. We asked no questions like......Sir, why can't I do this gesture with my left hand? ....or ...must I move only diagonally to do this particular phrase? ... Or … Sir, how do I show sadness with my face? We just did it. Letting you do your own was the secret of those gurus’ success. 

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  1. Thank you for the insightful article!

  2. Very valid observations. I think we don't differentiate between representational expression and portrayal. The operetta sort of mime is surely different than the experiential translations that we are to handle in solo repertoires. So, even anthropomorphic depictions have to be kept under this experiential radar while they are a part of a solo repertoire like a varnam for example. And I will agree also about the coquettish faces during nrtta; they are disconcerting.

  3. For someone who enjoys Kathakali and Koodiyattam, I disagree with the statement that the make up diminishes the effect of facial expressions....

  4. Although I am not officially trained in Kathak and I have been simply teaching myself with videos online, I would disagree with your statement that Kathak has minimal expressions. If anything, Kathak expressions are more subtle yet sensual, to tell various stories and portray all kinds of emotions. Although Kathak moves show to have more flow, be ultimately graceful and not as forceful, the face is constantly working to bring across a certain story and moral.
    I also agree with Dreamcatcher's comment, as I feel the makeup/paint/accessories truly enhance their facial expressions, as well as body language during the performance, stage presence, and overall unique style of the dance itself, for both Kathakali and Koodiyattam.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and observations regarding various classical and traditional Indian dance forms and how facial expressions play roles for each of them!