Come Sept 16, arts enthusiasts will be able to see a new style of dance that is recognised as a spin-off from kathakali, one of the major forms of Indian classical dance.

The Kerala Natanam, which follows the rudiments of Natya Shastra (detailed Sanskrit Hindu treatise on the performing arts) and the basic techniques of kathakali, will be showcased publicly here in conjunction with the Onam Festival Of Malaysia 2017.

Organised by Sopaanam Arts and Amriteswari Foundation of Malaysia, eight artists from the Kerala Kalamandalam, India, are expected to thrill locals with their version of the dance on Sept 16 at the Temple Of Fine Arts Kuala Lumpur.

“I believe this is the first time Malaysians will get to see Kerala Natanam here. The songs are all sung in the Malayalam language and are very melodious to the ears. You don’t have to understand the language or the lyrics to enjoy the dance,” says C.D.Siby, the chairman of Sopaanam Arts.

In kathakali, the basic costumes and make-up are similar for all roles, whereas in Kerala Natanam, the costumes and make-up differ according to the character portrayed; acting is also more expressive and involves more body gestures along with facial expressions.

Many of the dance items in Kerala Natanam are modified kathakali pieces, fine-tuned, tailored and adapted to suit the style. Costumes used for Kerala Natanam were influenced by celebrated Indian artist Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings, which were easily identifiable by the ordinary people. The make-up of the artists was made simpler and that resulted in ease of application and helped save time.

For those who don’t know, kathakali dancers spend at least three to four hours to complete their make-up, which is done in stages; this duration varies according to the character and complexity of the costume.

Siby says: “Kathakali is usually danced by an all-male cast but here, the cast is all female, with lady warriors dressed traditionally. Since Kerala Natanam is a simplified form of kathakali, it’s easy to understand the plot. The audience will get to see both forms of dance so they can appreciate them better.”

Posturally, the forms differ as well; in kathakali, the dancer always has a wide stance with feet shoulder distance apart while in Kerala Natanam, the dancers take on the tribhanga pose, consisting of three bends in the body – at the neck, waist and knee. This gives it a gentle, graceful and sensual S-curve, commonly seen in the odissi style of dance.

While Kerala Natanam will be the main draw at the festival, into its eighth year now, there will be other dance and music performances by international and local artists, highlighting a cross-section of Kerala’s rich traditional heritage.

“Lunch is an important component of Onam so the festival will also feature a sumptuous 24-course vegetarian spread, comprising Malayalee delicacies. Some of these items such as kaalan, oolan and avviyal are only served during Onam and Vishu (Malayalam New Year). Food is always a bestseller during the festival!” adds Siby.

Onam is a traditional 10-day harvest festival that marks the homecoming of the mythical King Mahabali. The Hindu festival fell on Sept 4 this year and is celebrated with much fanfare not only in the Indian state of Kerala but, by the Malayalee community all over the world.

The Onam Festival Of Malaysia 2017 will be held at 11am on Sept 16 at the Shantanand Auditorium, Temple Of Fine Arts KL, 116 Jalan Berhala, Kuala Lumpur. Tickets are priced at RM30 and can be obtained by calling 016-210 2845 or 011-3350 2088.