top of page

South India

Studying the classic forms of Indian dance Mohiniattam and Khatakali, Carnatic singing and Kalaripayattu with Theater MITU and the Vishtar Center for Social Justice and Peace, Bangalore.




IMG_1444 trim.JPG

Courtesy of Theater MITU

These are the questions that propels my research and teaching with Theatre Mitu in 2012.

Theater Mitu brought together a group of international participants, American teaching artists and Indian masters to rigorously engage with these core questions.


In conservatory arts training, the artist’s personal mythology is often overlooked in an attempt to focus on technique, achievement and success. But the question remains, what propels the artist? What is their belief system? What stories have formed who they are and the work they create? We believe the answers to these questions can only be discovered when the artist is asked to forget everything they think they know and in so doing, explore themselves outside of a context that is familiar; artistically, philosophically, aesthetically, and geographically. It is this belief that began the extensive and ongoing conversation with some of South India’s most accomplished masters and artists.


During this Artist Intensive I was a teaching artist and researcher studying: 


Kalaripayattu: One of the world’s oldest practiced forms of combat, Kalaripayattu is a martial art and spiritual practice with origins in India’s southern state of Kerala. It incorporates strikes, kicks, grappling, choreographed sequences, and extensive weaponry, as well as integrated healing techniques. Nearly every South Indian performance tradition trains their pupils in Kalaripayattu as a foundation for a strong, flexible and awake body. A malayalam expression often applied to Kalaripayattu is meyyu kanakkuka meaning “the body becomes all eyes”.

Mohiniattam: A traditional South Indian dance form from Kerala, this elegant dance is most often meant to be performed as a solo recital by women. The term “Mohiniattam” comes from the words “mohini” meaning a woman who enchants onlookers and “aattam” meaning graceful and sensuous body movements. The word “Mohiniattam” literally means “Dance of the Enchantress”.

Kathakali: Kathakali, deriving from the words “katha” (meaning story) and “kali” (meaning play), is a highly stylized classical Indian dance-drama. This classical Keralan art form employs make-up, elaborate costumes, detailed gestures, and well-defined body movements that are accompanied by music and percussion to present the stories of the greatest Hindu epics. A Kathakali actor uses immense concentration, skill and physical stamina, gained from regimented training based on Kalaripayattu, the ancient martial art of Kerala, to prepare for this demanding art form. Actors never speak, enacting their story purely through the movement of the hands (mudras), facial expressions (rasas), and bodily movements.


Yakshagana: Yakshagana, meaning “song (gana) of the nature spirits (yaksha)”, is a traditional South Indian theatre form mainly found in the Tulunadu and Malenadu regions of Karnataka and Kerala. Yakshagana blends graceful yet athletic dance, mesmerizing multi-instrumental music, hypnotic manipulation of the human voice, and poetic dialogue with awe-inspiring costumes and make-up. Yakshagana’s ancient theatrical form is usually enacted in temples from dusk until dawn, and aims to heighten the senses of performers and witnesses alike through the telling of stories from the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bhagavata Gita, and other Hindu epics.

Yoga/Meditation: Each morning will begin with sessions of Theravedic meditation centering and connecting the body, mind, and spirit. These sessions will create a space for systematic self-exploration and provide the in-depth focus required for the day’s work. The goal of these meditations will be to develop a conscious exploration of the self, its functions and the tools with which to work with its ever illusive focus.


Carnatic Music: Thousands of years old, this musical tradition, originally documented in the Natyasastra and featured in the Indian epics of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, is focused on the versatility of the human voice. Through the practical study of ragas (melodic formulas) and talas (rhythmic cycles), participants will use their voices to explore new musical ideas and philosophies. Documented in vedic texts as a vehicle to enlightenment, this disciplined practice will allow students to approach singing, rhythms and music in new ways.


Cultural Context: This class provides and facilitate deep cultural and historical context of South India and Bangalore. Seminars will bring local artists, activists, and scholars together with students to discuss their work in the region, while providing insight into India’s customs and traditions, allowing all participants to engage with our host country in a way that is open and fearless. The class will also consist of continuous outings and trips to further this context. These cultural immersion experiences will be curated by the Theater Mitu staff and are intended to give participants the most complicated and in-depth experiences with South India.


Whole Theater – Training: Led Theater Mitu company members, this class prepares artists to create work that is rigorously and simultaneously visual, aural, emotional, intellectual and spiritual. This course will take the idea of Whole Theater from the theoretical into the intensely physical by focusing on corporeal training and creation tools. Through these sessions participants will develop a deeper understanding of a disciplined artistic process, gather tools for cultivating a broader global awareness, and begin to identify and articulate their personal artistic taste. This class will weave elements from the classical theater and ritual traditions of Japan, India, Bali, Mongolia, Thailand, and Iran into a method of theatrical exploration designed to push artists in new and unexpected directions.


Whole Theater – Research: This course views the panorama of Theater Mitu’s core research, training, laboratory, and creation methodologies, known as Whole Theater. Taught by the company’s Founding Artistic Director, Rubén Polendo, class time will be spent exploring the artist’s relationship with the space between acting and performance, design and installation, and multimedia and interactive technology. We will probe and explore varied works, methods, and processes from a range of artists across disciplines and forms. We will examine how theatrical elements within these forms can contribute to an experience at once intensely emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. Participants will develop robust research tools with which to investigate work in performance, ritual, pop-culture, visual art, and music – all towards the conceptualization and creation of their own original theatrical works.

bottom of page