UCCS Performing Arts Center to host an event showcasing traditional Indian dance and storytelling

8 October 2019

William Pham

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Kathakali is a traditional Indian dance drama originating from Kerala India. For more than four centuries, this dance has been in practiced in India during religious festivals, and the event continues to this day in theaters around the world. UCCS will host the event called “Kathakali: A Night of Classical Indian Dance and Myth” on Oct. 14.

The Kathakali is a recreation from parts of epic Indian poems. Common themes and motifs originate from classic Hindu epics such as the Mahabharata and the Ramayana.

The “Mahabharata,” the more popular tale of the two, is the longest epic poem in the world and tells the story of two rivaling families, the Pandavas and the Kauravas, and their struggle for the control and kingship of India. The “Ramayana” tells of an exiled prince and his adventures and struggles while in exile.

Similar to the “Iliad” and the “Odyssey,” both stories combine elements of realism and mysticism, creating a story and dance consisting of gods, warriors, prophets, dialect and song.

Max Shulman, an assistant professor of theatre in the Department of Visual and Performing Arts at UCCS, is responsible for planning and setting up this mystical night of performance. Shulman stated, “I[Kathakali] came here because during my graduate work, I came under a professor who talked me into going to India and studying Kathakali for two months. There is a university down there called the Kalamandalam, and while I was there, I met the people that I am bringing here.”

Kaladharan Viswanath – administrator, scholar and spokesman for Kathakali – is a friend of Shulman, and it was through this connection that Kathakali is able to come to Colorado Springs. Every few years, Viswanath brings a dancer and tours around the world showcasing Kathakali to the general public. Shulman further elaborated, saying, “I helped with one of those tours during my master’s program, and so as soon as I got a job at the university as a professor, I knew I wanted to bring them.”

The dancer performing the Kathakali at the event is named Manoj. Manoj is a professional Kathakali specialist who has trained at Kalamandalam University, a renowned performing arts university in Kerala India known for producing dancers who practice traditional Indian dance like Kathakali.

Manoj is not a young dancer, and Shulman states that he is somewhere in his ‘50s. Unlike American culture, East Asian countries respect older and more accomplished dancers, more so than younger ones. So, in India, Manoj would be in the prime of his career due to his experience and refinements.

The performance itself will be quite authentic, at least as authentic as it can be while on tour, according to Shulman. For a full Kathakali performance, multiple dancers and musicians are required. In addition to the performers, makeup artists and costume preppers are also mandatory to help the performers put on their full attire. Shulman assures that even if Manoj does not have full makeup or costume, the dance itself will be as authentic as it is in India.

The night will be an introduction to Kathakali rather than a traditional performance. The agenda during the night will include a brief discussion of the history of the dance, music of the dance will be explored and the dance itself will take place. Shulman hinted that if time permits, audiences can come onto the stage at the end and explore these concepts firsthand.

Shulman shows great passion for this dance. “It’s exciting to celebrate this form that nobody knows about, introduce people to it, but also to celebrate Indian culture in a way that we don’t typically. To celebrate a performance form that follows a whole different set of ideals and rules,” he said.

Shulman is unsure whether Kathakali will become an ongoing event at UCCS, so it is imperative that students and faculty this year take up the opportunity and experience something truly unique coming to campus.

The event will take place on Oct.14 at 7 p.m. at the Chapman Foundation Recital Hall in the Ent Center. Admission is free for UCCS and Colorado College students and faculty, but reservations are required for entry. Non-students must pay an admission fee of $7.


Max Shulman: Assistant Professor of Theatre in the Department of Visual and Performing Arts | [email protected] | 719-255-5240