a fantastic mythological tale
July 29, 2005
It is unequivocally a privilege to witness a Kudiyattam performance – the pinnacle of poise, practice and a rigorous performance dynamic. Proclaimed by the UNESCO as a 'masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity', and recognised as the oldest, existing theatre form in the world, Kudiyattam is a highly evolved and deeply engaging art form that presses the edges between performance and inhabitation.
rests on a multilayered and complex dynamic, with the performance serving
beyond the functions of narration. In her recent hour-long performance
at Cardiff's Chapter Arts Centre, Arya Madhavan evoked more than merely
a fantastic mythological tale depicting the killing of the mythical demoness,
Poothana by the baby lord Krishna.
The incredulity of the tale aside, which involves a plot on behalf of the demoness to kill the baby God (feeding him upon lining her breast with poison), the performance was composed of a gripping play between presence and absence, threaded by sharply defined movements and improvised body formations. In Kudiyattam, the performer's vocabulary is, at the first instance, minimal and concentrated. It does not seek mimicry. Rather, the performer concentrates emotion into the mudras, catapulting the performance into a realm of movement poetics, curiously real and abstract at once.
Arya's solo piece was marked by a fluid ease of transmigration between the characters implicated within the narrative. From the demoness, Arya would migrate to the bystander or the householder. Her emphatic traversal coupled with symbolic and contemplative utilization of the performance space contributed to the drama arising in the juxtaposition of characters.
A further dialectic arose with the absence of any props in the performance. Ornate yet precise mudras served indicatively inviting the viewer into the dialogic between the performer's body, the narrative and the carving of the performance space. Though the audience and performer at Chapter were situated in a direct equation, facing each other; Arya's inhabitation of the space was defined rather fuzzily. Maintaining characters in keeping with the spatial definition, she occupied distinct areas and instituted relative equations of temporality, nearness and distance.
When Arya seated
herself as the demoness to the kill the baby, or as she looked afar seeking
her destination, the subtle, measured and open-ended definition of the
subjects and space pressured reading. Every moment of the performance was
often followed with a maintained stay, peppered with gestural and emotive
repetition, spilling the performance as dynamic and improvised. This propelled
variations in the pace of the performance too. Between slow and repetitive
movements and others marked by a prompt rigour, a lyrical dimension arose,
whose rhythms the audience could not resist.
is not a method of performance. It is a wide creative framework that situates
the artist in tough discipline between method and expression. It is to
Arya's merit for weaving her performance within the discipline, the specificity
of her narrative and including improvised moments of response towards the
audience. Poothana Moksham was presented to a predominantly white,
western audience at Chapter. Its rigorous formalism achieved in transcending
the barriers of language or culture and though it may not have been deciphered
entirely, it was provoking enough to engage audience attention despite
the complexly imbricated cultural specificity of the piece.
Aparna Sharma is an experimental filmmaker presently studying in the Film Academy, University of Glamorgan, UK.