The Kala Chethhena Kathakali Company, Dussassana Vadam

Review in Issue 14-4 | Winter 2002

Ear-splitting drumming summons attention from the synopsis to the stage. The beatific enthusiasm of Kalamandalam Barbara Vijayakumar bathes the stage: ‘In a moment this stage will be alive with characters from the world of the gods.’ And we are not disappointed by the searing show that follows. Behind an ‘inadequate’ screen the gods are assembling, peeping into our world, their hemispheric skirts trembling like half-worlds. Behind their thick make-up and enveloping costumes a cosmology is simmering, exploding through the performers’ seed-reddened eyes.

Unlike the well-made play’s mountain-range graph of rising tension with peaks of exposure and revelation, the emotional geography of Kathakali is closer to the huge designs made by Peruvian Indians on the Nazca Plains. The narrative and rhythm lead us to a high tabletop of intense feeling and there we stay for long ecstatic periods as the performers etch and decorate in a single plane of penetrating emotion.

The tale of Dussassana Vadam is a Macbeth of Indian dance – with a scarifying cannibalistic battlefield scene and two beautifully sustained evocations of redemptive dialogue with Krishna. The glowering presence of Dussassana, performed by Kalamandalam Unnithan, I will carry with me – his sublime performance is that rare thing, the uplifting portrayal of evil. His face a grinding machine, shaking with the unease of his own chuckling malevolence, seething with pain and hilarity. Perfectly matched by the tremulous empathy of Kalamandalam Vijayakumar’s performance of the humiliated wife, Draupadi. But they were all stunning.

And a curtain call to rival Donald Wolfitt shook the Phoenix…

Presenting Artists
Presenting Venue
Date Seen
  1. Nov 2002

This article in the magazine

Issue 14-4
p. 28