The Eyes and Face : The final frontier for a Dancer

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For the Dancer, the body is integral, the mind the controller and the soul is the fuel that drives her expression, and the eyes and face where the expression is manifested, guiding the body into motion. So in this journey of discovering the Dancer’s Body over the last few days from feet, to torso, to head, I find myself unable to end this exploration for the 45 Days of Dance Stories without addressing the face and eyes of a Dancer.
Lets begin with the eyes. Throughout history – artists, philosophers, and poets have been drawn to the visual metaphor of the eyes being a window to the soul. Be it William Shakespeare, Tennyson, Cicero, or then William Hetherington, the connection drawn between this sensory organ that absorbs the world we live in – is transformed into a gateway to our soul.
In the literary world the “portal” status ascribed to one’s eyes is couched in fantasy and hope, romanticism and delight in the unknown, whereas in the world of Dance, there seems to be a firmer belief that the eyes are indeed a direct link to the fuel – the soul – that is holding the body and its movements together.
For me, the classical dance tradition of Kathakali from the Southern State of Kerela, in India has an elaborate and alive tradition of using not only the eyes but all the facial muscles in aiding the dancer in expressing himself. The makeup, the costume and jewellery all tools for enhancing this variety of eye and facial contortions that convey the Rasas in the 21st Century. This Dance form is dominated by male performers, although many female artistes have challenged this tradition and have dedicated their lives to living the dance and the art. (See this 2012 Hindu Article for more on this.) For all Kathakali Dancers, the guiding force for their performance dis the story, the narrative that is driving choreography. The need to connect to the audience, but also to leave them more knowledgeable at the end of the performance. Kathakali therefore uses the face and eyes more than any other classical Indian Dance, in an extremely dramatic and effective manner due to this central tenet – and that is to completely captivate the audience in its art of storytelling. For Kathak Dancers the audience is there to be liberated, for the Bharatnatyam Dancer the audience is there to be taken to a transcendental space, but for the Kathakali Dancer, the audience is there as listener, more so that in any other dance form. They are there to be told a story, and that story must be told well. In this, the eye and face movements of the Kathakali Dancer are surpassed, here is a demonstration that is truly mind blowing  –
To view these performers up close and personal, under the open sky on a wooden stage, with the moon and oil lamps lighting the way. The painted faces and elaborate costumes, the round dark eyes made-up to scare, the story unfolding, all of us living, it is here that I know that there is no atom, cell, or body-part that is missing, absent, silent or asleep – when a Dancer is in motion!

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