India boasts many traditional regional dance forms, but kathakali, with its elaborate, colorful costumes and masks is undoubtedly one of the most distinctive. With roots going back to ancient Hindu temple plays (some think as far back as the 2nd century), kathakali, now the state dance of Kerala, evolved into its current dance-drama format in the 17th century, under the direction of the Rajah of Kottarakkara, who took the performances out of the temples and palaces and directly to the villages. Founded in 1990, this noted center honors kathakali—as well as Indian classical music, and other traditional arts—with nightly performances, 365 days a year. The kathakali shows are usually about 90 minutes, and include a informative demonstration; come an hour early to watch the actors undergo the elaborate makeup and costuming process.
Kathakali is dance form that is native to Kerala, India. Performances are of classic plays. In days gone by, performances would fill an entire day. Nowadays, performances are just a couple of hours long. The hallmarks of Kathakali are the use of facial expressions and hand gestures (mudras), against a musical backdrop, to tell the story. Because facial expressions are so important to a Kathakali performance, makeup and costumes are very elaborate and are used to transform the dancer into the character being portrayed. For example, green faced characters represent heroes and gods. For these characters, thick cutouts of white colored paper are also glued to the jaw and chin of the actor; eyes and eyelashes are painted black and the lips bright red. Characters with a black face are considered to be the *offbeat*; red face are evil and yellow is used to portray female characters. Facial designs, painted atop the base makeup, are used convey additional characteristics. The dancers wear heavily pleated skirts to enlarge and distort their form. The headgear is often very elaborate as well. If you’re anywhere near Kochi, India, you can catch a nightly performance of Kathakali at the Kerala Kathakali Center in Fort Kochi. It costs 250 rupees for the performance and if you arrive an hour earlier, you can watch the dancers have their makeup applied. Kathakali is definitely not going to be everyone’s *cup of tea* but for the price of the ticket, it’s worth the experience!