Koodiyattam artiste and academician Dr. Arya Madhavan on the relevance of Koodiyattam in performance theatre studies.

“I draw on the wealth of memories, which I have of innumerable nights spent watching Kathakali.” These words of Koodiyattam performer Arya Madhavan is not a peek into the nostalgia-tinted memories of a childhood spent in Kerala, but an eye opener to her realisation of the richness of those moments. It becomes doubly significant when the artiste is also an academic, a rare combination in this precious performance theatre art form.

Author of the book ‘Kudiyattam Theatre and the Actor's Consciousness,' Dr. Arya, who is a lecturer at the School of Performing Arts at the University of Lincoln, United Kingdom, spoke on her own performance as well as the relevance of aesthetically rich Koodiyattam in performance theatre studies to Friday Review.

Dr. Arya, who has been a television presenter and a management trainee with a public sector unit in Thiruvananthapuram, is clear that she found her peace when she confined herself to Koodiyattam as a performer-researcher.

Finding her space

“I can recollect myself as a three-year-old trying to enact ‘Damayantiyude dukham' after watching a Kathakali performance, which I now feel signalled my attraction to traditional art forms of Kerala,” she says.

“Try putting all the art forms of India on one side and Koodiyattam on the other, the latter will score higher, because it has such a highly evolved and nuanced texture. No other form can match up to this classical theatre,” adds Dr. Arya who performed the popular ‘Poothanamoksham' Nangiarkoothu in Thiruvananthapuram, recently.

This episode of the encounter between Sree Krishna and Poothana holds immense appeal even to a lay viewer and is something Dr. Arya has presented many a time abroad. In fact, a very interesting aspect that one notes while using such episodes is the gap that exists in the Western imagination and visual mindscape.

For instance, an audience unfamiliar with Indian mythology and geography, may find it difficult to identify or visualise the incident of ‘Gopasthrivasthraparahanam' (where Sree Krishna steals the clothes of the gopis who were bathing in a pond) or visualise the ‘jalakrida' locale.

The emergence of performance theatre and the study of an actor from an anthropological point of view are in a way taking the perceptions away from what has for a long time been more “vocal and verbal theatre.”

Multiple levels

Post-dramatic theatre, according to Dr. Arya, becomes the quest into what transcends the mere experiencing of theatre to the level of ‘rasa.' This in a way places the whole form into the realm of consciousness studies, which in essence is closely linked to Indian aesthetics and philosophy.

Placing Koodiyattam in the field of enquiry puts the spotlight on ‘Pakarnattam,' which is the culminating point when fluidity shows up.

“Where does one place ‘Pakarnattam,' which is the defining phase when multiple transformation in acting takes place? What happens is the displacement of a fixed definition and you first emerge and then submerge into the body and consciousness of an actor,” says Dr. Arya defining her quest.

From one who approached Nangiarkoothu exponent Margi Sathi in 1995 with the anticipatory clause: “I want to learn and not perform Koodiyattam,” Dr. Arya has journeyed quite far, grooming herself as a performer as well as a researcher. This combination of artiste-academic results in a dual relevance; on the subjective level connecting with consciousness studies, and also as a performer analysing her own performance.

Dr. Arya can be considered a late entrant into Koodiyattam, but she says that she had assimilated a lot of Kathakali without any formal training. “There was a lot of taming that Margi Sathi had to do so that I could shed the body movements that were akin to Kathakali. This was equally applicable in the manner of expressing through mudras.” The immense possibilities that ‘Pakarnattam' gives a performer is a priceless resource for the academic in her who has set her sights on this element for her ongoing study of the complex performing art form that is Koodiyattam.

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