Kathakali dancers

Kathakali dancers

Dancer and drummer


As Director of Sydney School of Arts & Humanities on a visit to South India last week, I was welcomed to an impromptu viewing of students training at their special school near Thrissur.

At Kerala Kalamandalam, the Kathakali dance performance training school-university, students have to work hard to learn the complicated choreography of this ancient art form.

There are hundreds of hand gestures, facial expressions and body movements that must be perfected to attain the status of an adult professional Kathakali performer – playing the legendary roles of the dance story form, such as Arjuna or Bali, that have been passed down the generations. Strength and stamina are vital to be able to jump and spring about the stage wearing the heavy and ornate costumes required of the roles.

In fact the boys (girls are not eligible to play the range of male and female roles of the dances) have to wake up at 4.30 a.m. and give their all during morning dance classes, before attending normal educational classes every afternoon. Talented students can continue to study the theory and practice of the dance to MPhil level at university.

Even the drummer boys need to practice for hours every day to perfect the rhythms of the dances – strengthening their fine-boned hands in the process.

Student drummers

The whole scene is one of concentrated study.

For more information about a South Indian writing tour later this year check here or email enquiry@www.ssoa.com.au

Christine Williams

Teacher scrutiny

The real thing

Kathakali dancers

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