Like all other dance forms Kathakali has also undergone changes over the time. In Kathakali emphasis is given more on "Aharya Abhinaya", the use of costumes, ornaments and facial make-up. It is interesting to note that Kathakali is the only Indian dance form in which the entire body, both skeleton and muscles, down to even the smallest facial muscle are used to portray emotion. When Kathakali dance is being performed the text of the drama or the story is sung for the dancer and is the baseline for his or her interpretation.
Stage for Kathakali Dance Performance
For a typical performance, a simple temporary pandal at a height of 10 and 1/2 feet is erected. A minimum of 144 sqft stage is needed for the acting area. A green room is also located close to the stage. The stage is decorated with coconut leaves, bunches of areca nuts etc. The only source of light is a big bell metal lamp placed down the center stage. The level of the stage used to be the same as that of the ground where people used to squat while witnessing the performance.
Kathakali Dance Performance
A Kathakali performance begins with the "Kelikottu", calling the audience to attention followed by the "Thodayam". Kelikottu will announce the performance of the evening at about 6 pm. The actual performance will begin only between 9-10 pm. It is a devotional number performed where one or two characters invoke the blessings of the gods. Junior actors in the group with simple make-up and perform Thodayam. "Kelikottu" is the formal announcement of the performance done in the evening when drums and cymbals are played for a while in the courtyard. Recitation of ‘Vandanaslokam’ (Prayer Song) followed by ‘Purappad’ - traditionally a preliminary item introducing the main character of the story in full costume and make-up. However, nowadays it is mostly ‘Krishna’ and ‘Balarama’ who are presented, sometime with their spouses in this introductory dance.
A pure dance piece known as the "Purappad" comes as a sequel to this. Then the musicians and drummers hold the stage entertaining the audience with an exhibition of their skills in "Melappadam". Then the story or parts of the stories proposed are enacted which may last till dawn. The end of the performance is marked by a piece of pure dance called "Dhanasi". Drummers, singers, make up artists and costumers complete the ensemble of highly trained specialists, to present a Kathakali performance. "Tiranokku" is the debut on the stage of all characters other than the "Pacha" or "Minukku". Thereafter, the play or the particular scene of the chosen play begins.
The orchestra which is also used in other traditional performing arts of Kerala normally comprises the Chenda, Maddalam, Chengila, Elathalam, Idakka and Shankhu.