Friday 24 April 2020

Article - Identity and Aesthetics - V. Kaladharan

The coexistence of several highly evolved dance and theatre traditions in Kerala has problematized the concept of identity of each form especially with the incredible outreach of Kathakali in the last century. Did Kathakali, an eclectic dance-drama, exert influence on Kutiyattam, Krishnanattam, Mohiniyattam and Thullal? While intransigent connoisseurs came down heavily upon the Kutiyattam artists of Kerala Kalamandalam in the late 1980's for diluting the identity of this Sanskrit theatre tradition by borrowing elements from Kathakali, eminent playwright and theatre-director, the late Kavalam Narayana Panicker derided the reformations in the vocal music of Krishnanattam (dancing the life-story of Lord Krishna that has for long been confined to the Guruvayoor temple) along the lines of Kathakali vocal music.

Against the above background, I had a prolonged interview with the legendary Kutiyattam actor, the late Ammannoor Madhava Chakyar, at his residence, for AIR, Thrissur. In the course of our conversation, I asked him the reason why he insisted that the young Kutiyattam practitioners keep themselves away from Kathakali. Chakyar replied, "This is a piece of advice handed down to me by my immediate ancestors. By incessantly or occasionally watching Kathakali, a relatively more popular performance tradition, a student of Kutiyattam is most likely to be influenced by its techniques. He/she may if so unintentionally alter the identity of Kutiyattam." Chakyar was undoubtedly voicing his concerns about the task of protecting the identity of Kutiyattam while it could be made applicable to all the solid art forms categorized by the term 'classical'.

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  1. As a Mohiniyattam performer i totally agree to what Kaladharan sir has expressed in his article above. Aesthetic features of each art form is completely different to one another. I think kutiyaatam and kathakali are in same genre when it comes to the abhinaya techniques. Also its training methods are completely different than other artforms like bharatanatyam or Mohiniyattam which follow rather simple and subtle facial expressions. From my knowledge i can say that these two artforms do such vigorous training sessions in abhinaya(such as breathing techniques) because the ahaarya(dress and ornaments) that they use demands more visible abhinaya not only with face but the whole body. So if a bharatanatyam or a Mohiniyattam dancer try to follow these techniques it will affect the total aesthetic appeal of that art form.

  2. Some thoughts - Is the identity of an art form immutable? Clearly Kathakali has borrowed from other forms such as Kutiyattam, Krishnattam, and even Theyyam. Kathakali itself has evolved over time. And so has Bharatanatyam and Mohiniyattam. The point is that art forms developing in a certain regional locus have borrowed from each other and will continue to do so. Also, dancers without proper abhinaya skills are dime a dozen and boring to watch. I think they will benefit from better abhinaya training. The application of which should be intelligently done with appropriate aesthetic reasoning.