(Last Updated on : 04/12/2013)
The Kuchipudi, a representation of a fine combination of Natya, Nritta and Nritya was earlier never a solo affair and required a number of actors. Men and boys who were given a vigorous training in abhinaya, music, dancing and singing presented it in the open air on an improvised stage. Earlier boys and young men of comely appearance played the female roles. The Sutradhar or the director of the stage played the key role. He was the conductor, dancer, singer, musician, comedian, all rolled into one.
Today, however, Kuchipudi is considerably a different style of dance form than it originally used to be, since it is now a solo performance done by female dancers. The Sutradhara has become a phenomenon of the past and the Vachika abhinaya, that is, the danseuses sing expressional numbers, instead by the vocalists in the background on the stage, as was the traditional practice.
element of devotion to gods has also been done away with and it has become purely a secular affair with predominance of sringar or erotic flavour. The main expressional number is from Jaidevas Ashtapadi, the Ramayana, the Puranas, Tirtha Narayanas Krishna Lila Tarangini or Tyagarajas compositions, but now the dancer combines into herself the roles of the singer who sings the daruvu, the actor who speaks the lines and the dancer who mimes and dances to interpret the text. Elements not indigenous to the dance drama such as sculpture like stances and freezes based on perfect iconographic form motifs and shapes have also been incorporated into Kuchipudi dance recitals to make it more competitive with other dance forms.
Kuchipudi dance-dramas each present a particular episode or a series of episodes. A solo narrative, on the other hand, typically consists of such items as the Sabdam, Bhama kalapam, which is the main item, Padams and Tarangams. In Bhama kalapam, the dancer has enormous scope for the dramatisation of characters. The main character is Satyabhama, a beautiful but egotistical queen who goes through the process of discovering the path of true love and devotion. In the Tarangam, the dancer frequently performs a balancing feat, her feet poised on the edge of a brass plate as she moves around.
Kuchipudi plays are enacted in the open air and on improvised stages. The presentation begins with some stage rites, which are performed in full view of the audience. Then the Soothradhara or the conductor and the supporting musicians come on the stage and give a play of rhythm on the drums and cymbals. In a Kuchipudi performance, each principal character introduces him or herself on the stage with a daru, which is a small composition of dance and song specially designed for each character to help him or her reveal his or her identity and also to show the performers skill in the art. There are nearly 80 dharus or dance sequences in the dance drama. Behind a beautiful curtain held by two persons, Satyabhama enters the stage with her back to the audience.
Apart from Bhama Kalapam, the other famous dance dramas are Gollakalapam by Bhagavatha Ramayya, Prahlada Charitam by Tirumala Narayanacharyalu, Sashirekha Parinaya etc. The lyrics used in Kuchipudi are usually in Telugu, though Sanskrit verses are also not uncommon. While Kuchipudi, like Bharata Natyam comprises pure dance, mime and histrionics, it is the use of speech as well that distinguishes its presentation as dance drama. The most popular Kuchipudi dance is the pot dance in which a dancer keeps a pot filled with water on her head and feet kept on a brass plate. She moves on the stage manipulating the brass plate, with the feet kept on its rim and doing some hand movements without spilling a drop of water on the ground thus amazing the audience.