Dance review: Bhaskareeyam gives rare insight into an ancient dramatic tradition

Kathakali Festival: Kacha Devayani

Bhaskareeyam

Alliance Française, July 1

From Kacha Devayani’s first act, when stagehands dressed in cream and gold ceremonial garments lift a multicolored shroud in front of a lit lamp, it’s clear the drama will mark a departure from the common rules of modern plays that audiences are accustomed to. at.

Razor-sharp drumming sequences and larger-than-life costumes shine in the two-hour piece, Bhaskar’s Arts Academy’s third production for Bhaskareeyam, their annual festival celebrating the performing arts in Singapore and abroad. .

Featuring veteran performers from Kalamandalam, a prestigious Indian school of performing arts, the play is a rare glimpse into a dramatic tradition not commonly practiced outside India.

Derived from a 2,000 year old tale in the Mahabharata epic, Kacha Devayani is about two lovers who are on opposite sides of a war between gods and demons. A must in the traditional Kathakali repertoire, the piece offers instrumental and vocal accompaniments to complement the performance of its four main actors.

The form of acting is almost exclusive to the Malayalee community in the southern Indian state of Kerala, and it is believed to have been first practiced in its earliest forms during the first millennium.

With elaborate hand movements and perfectly bent poses, Kalamandalam Biju, who plays main protagonist Kacha, takes the audience on a roller coaster of emotions, inspiring them to fall in love with her character throughout the play and, ultimately, to despise him for his betrayal of Devayani.

The casting of actors in non-conforming gender roles is a unique aspect of kathakali which is skillfully presented during the performance by Rajasekharan, a retired director of Kalamandalam and a seasoned veteran of the art form.

Her Devayani is a haunting display of feminine grace and contempt portrayed through her smaller, softer footsteps and swaying motions, compared to Biju’s thundering timbres and rigid posture.