Playing her part

ASSIGNMENT Diane Daugherty's love affair with Kerala PHOTO: S. MAHINSHA

ASSIGNMENT Diane Daugherty's love affair with Kerala PHOTO: S. MAHINSHA   | Photo Credit: Photo: S. Mahinsha

Diane Daugherty says that her mission is to revive Koodiyattom

Diane Daugherty is no stranger to Kerala. Her first visit was in 1976 and she has been undertaking this pilgrimage every year since then - an unbroken record of 30 years. It is not the usual getaways that she is headed towards. Ask her what brings her to Kerala so regularly and what holds her interest and you would be surprised: hers has been the search to understand the ancient theatre tradition of Koodiyattom. Small wonder, then, that when an international seminar on Koodiyattom was planned, Diane was the natural choice as the expert who would be coordinator for the seminar.The meticulous planning that has gone into structuring the sessions is evident when she says, "It is a fascinating combination that has emerged for each session. When we had a theoretical paper, there was also a performer who could convey the same through the live performance."

A fascinating journey

Working for her doctoral thesis at the New York State University on `Face painting in Kathakali and Theyyam' marked the beginning of her journey into the dance traditions of Kerala. In the years that followed, her frequent visits familiarised her with the space and position enjoyed by female characters on stage and she also learnt that it was not a recent phenomenon.Since then it has been both a learning experience combined with research into Nangiarkoothu, specifically. Recalling her maiden experience watching a performance by Kalamandalam Girija in 1988, "With exhilaration I realised that the performance manual for Nangiarkoothu demanded that a woman's body be strong and agile. Female Koodiyattam performance requires not only an athletic body, but also finely tuned facial and eye muscles" adds Diane.The urge to discover and understand more about the extant practices has taken Diane to the legendary artistes, Ammannur Madhava Chakiyar and Mani Madhava Chakiyar, as well as P.K. Narayanan Nambiar, L.S. Rajagopalan, K.P. Narayana Pisharody. Meeting the women who perform has aided her understanding the essence of the art form. Keen to watch a performance in the traditional setting, she sponsored performances by Usha Nangiyar at the Thrissur Vadakkumnathan temple. As was the case with the performing arts in Kerala, Koodiyattom also faced extinction as a result of lack of patronage and shrinking performance spaces. The interest evinced by researchers naturally had a reinvigorating effect among the traditional performers.Working on texts that had fallen into disuse and writing of acting manuals for Koodiyattom gave it a fresh lease of life.

Female roles

In this context, Diane's unbroken association with Koodiyattom has also seen a continuing interest in "reviving female roles that have fallen out of the active repertoire." On a Fulbright grant she has completed a video documentation of the performances by Nangiars still performing in temples. This has been followed up with the implementation of the staging of `Subhadra Dhananjaya,' Act II by the Margi Company and the presentation of Subhadra's `Nirvahana' by Usha Nangiar and Margi Sathi. Scouring the surviving manuscripts for lost female roles, the latest achievement has been Usha Nangiar's staging of Menaka's nirvahana in Tappati Samvaranam after she found verses in the centuries-old palm leaf manuscript.BHAWANI CHEERATH

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