Kerala Natanam or Kerala Dance is a novel art form evolved Kerala Natanam from Kathakali and is comprised of nritha (absolute or pure dance) nrithya (dance with music and gesticulations) and natya (dramaturgy) and angika (body gestures), vaachika (verbal), aahaarya (costumes and make up) saatvika (of temperaments and involuntary status) abhinaya (acting), in accordance with the thala mela (rhythm) order of the percussion instruments used in Kerala. The art form of Kerala Natanam was created and composed by Guru Gopinath.
Kerala Natanam is comprised of Nritha, Nrithya and Natya based on traditional Kathakali, without detracting from its basic tenets but has some of its complex involutions and intricacies. Though it has originated or evolved from Kathakali, it is neither Kathakali nor an attempt to reform or redefine it. In simple words Kerala Natanam is a classical dance following rudiments of 'Natya Shastra' and practicing basics of Kathakali techniques.
- It is a classical dance suited for both men and women. It is not confined to men alone as Kathakali was.
- It is ideal for solo, duet and group performances and is designed for dramaturgy - Nataka Natanam and ballets.
- It is universal because it is stylised and choreographed with a universal audience in mind. It is more lokadharmi in approach without deviating from the classicism.
- It was this dance, which made dancing popular, communicative and enjoyable to masses.
Guru Gopinath and Thankamani's dance programs found traditional pieces existing side by side with those modified to present a variety of themes. Their style relied heavily on the angika abhinaya - body movements and gestures - and satvika abhinaya - facial expressions from Kathakali. The major stance of Kathakali was however changed by Gopinath to a more convenient pose that could still rest well with the tribhanga concept.
Another significant deviation was in aharya abhinaya- costume mode) where they adopted costumes and facial makeup to suit the role. Thus in a dance on Jesus Christ the dancer dressed like Christ. In social dances the artists wore the dress of labourers, peasants, folk etc. Likewise roles of Srikrishna, king, snake charmer, hunter had the appropriate attire. For the first time Carnatic music compositions used for concerts were rendered into dance forms by Gopinath. Unlike traditional Kathakali and Mohini attam, a variety of many musical instruments were also added to his presentations.
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