Category Archives: Indian Dance

Pictures from India

It’s taken a few months to organize and upload the photos from my trip to India, but I’m happy to report they are are ready! And good golly, there’s a lot of them. So a few options exist.

If you want the entire adventure, including all the work on Maya the musical and my subsequent travels to south India, follow this link.

If you want to see just the travels to south India, click here.

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Faces of India

Once it was confirmed that I would be working in India this fall, I was excited to see if I could find out more about Indian mask traditions. Quick internet searches yielded little, only some tribal Himalayan masks to the north, and a number of colorful pieces in neighboring Sri Lanka.Talking with some people on the Maya project as well as  other mask friends gave me a few more  ideas about where to look.

Here’s a little of what I found!

Kerala

Kathakali

Kerala is a state in southern India that borders the Arabian Sea.  It is also home to kathakali, a highly stylized drama/dance.  The stories told in this form vary, but many are from the Mahabharata epic.

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Drummers and singers accompanied the characters throughout the performance.

If you arrive early to the performance, not only do you get to observer the performers apply their intense makeup, you also get a better seat. And I’m really glad we did.

Some of the makeup includeds 3-D elements, like the white disc at his cheeks.
Some of the makeup includes 3-D elements, like the white disc at his cheeks. The green faced pacha character is always a good guy in the story being told.
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The makeup is made largely from the powders of different stones, or sometimes vegetable matter, mixed with coconut oil.
This clownish character had a white, flower-like nose attached on top of the makeup.
This clownish character had a white, flower-like nose attached on top of the makeup.

After the makeup was applied, there was a demonstration of the techniques used in the dance. You must train for many years before performing in the kathakali,  and the abilities of the dancers makes this clear.

The way they could move their eyes was nothing short of amazing. Eyes are very important in the communication of emotions in the drama, and these dancers have amazing muscular control. In addition, the performers of kathakali can isolate muscle groups in their face.  Not just like flaring nostrils or wiggling ears—try to imagine just the tops of the cheeks bouncing up and down while the rest of the face remains calm. It’s impressive!

The character designs painted on their faces come alive as these muscle isolations occur. These facial gestures are combined with mudras, or coded positions of the hands, to complete the attitude.

Lord Shiva and Parvati reveal their true nature after a series of comic antics.
Lord Shiva and Parvati reveal their true nature to Arjuna after a series of comic antics.

Kerala Folklore Museum

There are artifacts from throughout southern India, including the states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala, inside this beautiful building.

 

In Ernakulam, a more modern town across the water from Kochi, I was excited to find a museum dedicated to folklore. There were several interesting faces inside. The museum was not always the most successful in providing context for the various images, but I did start to get a sense of mask styles from different regions.

This beak is part of a costume for the Garuda bird in a Kathakali play.
This beak is part of a costume for the Garuda bird in a Kathakali play.
Costume for a Poothan ritual dance of Kerala.
Costume for a Poothan ritual dance of Kerala. According to wikipedia, Poothan is the lieutenant of Shiva. These dances are performed once or twice year to clean the village of evil spirits.
Another ritual dance from Kerala is the Kummattikali. It is celebrated on the festival of Onam (in Aug/Sept). Again (arrgh) I refer to wikipedia, which categorizes this and the Poothan dance as "devotional"
Another ritual dance mask from Kerala. Again I refer to wikipedia, which categorizes this (and the Poothan dance) as a “devotional art form”. The festival is in August/September, so I missed my chance to see it performed.
Another ritual performance called Theyyam was represented by these painted heads.
Another ritual performance called Theyyam was represented by these painted heads.
After some more research on wikipedia, it seems that these heads are records of some makeup styles for performers of the Theyyam cult.
After some more research on wikipedia, it seems that these heads are records of some makeup styles for performers of the Theyyam cult.
I include some pictures below from the wikipedia article for reference.
I include some pictures below from the wikipedia article for reference.
"Bali theyyam, Payyannur" by Jasinth M V - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bali_theyyam,_Payyannur.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Bali_theyyam,_Payyannur.jpg
“Bali theyyam, Payyannur” by Jasinth M V – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bali_theyyam,_Payyannur.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Bali_theyyam,_Payyannur.jpg
"Bhagavathi at Vikranandapuram Kshetram, Taliparamba" by prasadnp - PhotographedPreviously published: 2013/04/29. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 via Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Bhagavathi_at_Vikranandapuram_Kshetram,_Taliparamba.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Bhagavathi_at_Vikranandapuram_Kshetram,_Taliparamba.jpg
“Bhagavathi at Vikranandapuram Kshetram, Taliparamba” by prasadnp – PhotographedPreviously published: 2013/04/29. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 via Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Bhagavathi_at_Vikranandapuram_Kshetram,_Taliparamba.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Bhagavathi_at_Vikranandapuram_Kshetram,_Taliparamba.jpg

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I like the really basic expression in this mask from Karnataka.
I like this really basic expression.
The mask in the lower center, also a ritual mask from Karnataka, seems to build on the basic expression.
The mask in the lower center, also a ritual mask from Karnataka, seems to build on the basic expression.

 

 

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At the rear of the kathakali stage inside the Kerala Folk Museum.
Puppets!

There were also a few examples of puppets in the museum. I knew there were some famous puppets in the state of Rajasthan in the north, but these have a different feeling than their northern relations.

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Spare hands in mudras and extra feet.
Spare hands in mudras and extra feet.
Shadow Puppet from Andhra Pradesh.
Shadow Puppet from Andhra Pradesh.

Karnataka

Museum of Mankind

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A mask from the Limbu people near Geyzing, Sikkim in Northeastern India. It is carved in wood and depicts Bhairava, a fierce manifestation of Shiva associated with annihilation.

We moved on to the state of Karnataka, just north and east of Kerala.  In the city of Mysore, famed for ashtanga yoga and sandalwood crafts, we visited the Indira Ghandi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya (aka the Museum of Mankind).

A Mahakal mask from the Limbu of Geyzing, Sikkim. It is a variant of the one in red.
A Mahakal mask from the Limbu of Geyzing, Sikkim. It is a variant of the one in red.

The collection features many tribal art forms from different parts of India. I was lucky to find  included a couple of masks from the Himalayas in this southern state.  The style is quite different form the types I had seen in Kerala.  I imagine the  species of wood used for carving is different as well.

Though I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t find as many masks as I had hoped, the museum also features a large collection of terra cotta figures from around India.  These figures provide some insight into the style and decorative idiosyncrasies of the culture to which they belong.

Terra Cotta elephant at the Museum of Mankind in Mysore.
Terra Cotta elephant at the Museum of Mankind in Mysore.

 

Terra Cotta from Bihar, in  the north
Terra Cotta from Bihar, in the north
Sculpture of a woman from a folk community in Karnataka.
Sculpture of a woman from a folk community in Karnataka.

Miscellaneous faces

Street art in Kochi
Street art in Kochi
There are schools on the backwaters of Alleppey, and where there are schools, there are computers. They are guarded by this fearsome beast.
There are schools on the backwaters of Alleppey, and where there are schools, there are computers. They are guarded by this fearsome beast.
At a cafe in Kochi.
At a cafe in Kochi.
Random kids who instantly wanted to be in my picture while I photographed ruins in Hampi.
Random kids who instantly wanted to be in my picture while I photographed ruins in Hampi.
Case trying to speak tiger at the Mysore Palace.
Case trying to speak tiger at the Mysore Palace.

Shots from the rehearsal room

I spent this last week in Pune, rehearsing with the cast at KCT.  We had more fittings and used the masks in rehearsal to discover any potential difficulties in comfort and sightlines.

Sunset Elephant!  I love it when I can conceal the eye-hole the actor looks through.
Sunset Elephant! I love it when I can conceal the eye-hole the actor looks through.
Mountain Monsters: Obsidian, Dacite and Copper. These characters hurl rocks (puppeteered by other cast members) down the mountain at Maya and her companions.
Mountain Monsters: Obsidian, Dacite and Copper. These characters hurl rocks (puppeteered by other cast members) down the mountain at Maya and her companions.
Hey Monkey Monkey!  I used close-fitting face masks for the monkeys, and you can see the actor's eyes move.
Hey Monkey Monkey! I used close-fitting face masks for the monkeys, and you can see the actor’s eyes move.

In the second act, there is a large dance featuring all sorts of animals, in a variety of masks styles that cover different amounts of the actors’ faces.

Queen Tiger leads a celebration dance
Queen Tiger leads a celebration dance. As we rehearsed, we only had to change minor details in spacing. Success!
Resting deer.
Deepak takes a rest in the dance rehearsal. Wearing a mask can be exhausting when you do the dance several times in a row!
Beast Feast!
Beast Feast! The Queen Tiger’s mask is based on a bicycle helmet. When dancing, it still rocked front to back too much, so we added a bamboo back harness (not pictured).

We also were finally able to try the full masks of the serpent Ska. There are some special tricks that these masks have to accomplish in the play, including the removal of three of the heads.

Priyanka surrounded by the sinful faces of the serpent Ska.
Priyanka surrounded by the sinful faces of the serpent Ska.