- Kudiyattam: Theatre and the Actor's Consciousness
Arya Madhavan's book is a rare effort of theorization in kudiyattam that draws from Indian and Western scholarship. Rather than providing a descriptive account of kudiyattam practice she attempts to analyze elements of its acting technique under a number of theoretical frameworks. One of the exciting aspects of this book is that Madhavan introduces relevant information from Indian scholarship not available in English (the author is conversant in Sanskrit and Malayalam). However, some important works on kudiyattam in English (Rajagopalan 2000; Venu 2002; Paniker 2005; and Paulose 2006 [an update of a Malayalam version which Madhavan does cite]) go unacknowledged. Nor does she address Zarrilli's ideas on acting when reviewing Western approaches to actor training, which would be useful since his ideas are often informed by South Indian performance and martial arts (1998, 2000, and 2008). In general, Madhavan's discussion of the wide range of theories that inform her analysis [End Page 373] reads as somewhat incomplete and may feel unsatisfactory to experts in each field. Overall the book is one that has potential to open the field to new areas of theorization and to give an overview of some important aspects from the practice of this important Kerala dance-drama form. Despite some weaknesses in editing and repetition of points, it will be of use to those interested in kudiyattam in particular and consciousness of the actor in general.
The introduction includes a description of her book project and an overview of kudiyattam. Madhavan states: "I intend to examine how actors alter their consciousness to higher levels during performance and how actor training systematically facilitates that alteration. . . . For the purposes of my argument, I take Kudiyattam, a form of Sanskrit theatre, as a model of performance primarily because I am a trained performer of Kudiyattam and have first-hand experience of its actor training and acting" (p. 11). Madhavan situates her narrative within existing Indian and Western scholarship on consciousness and acting. The rest of the introduction is a description of kudiyattam meant "to give a coherent account of Kudiyattam to a reader who is new to Kudiyattam" (p. 18). She successfully provides an informative but simple account of kudiyattam history and conventions that will be useful to the beginner.
Chapter 1 reviews actor consciousness from the perspective of consciousness studies, performance studies, and theatre practice. The author starts by describing pashyanti, a concept from Indian literary theory, as applied by Peter Malekin and Ralph Yarrow to the field of the actor's consciousness. According to Madhavan, "Pashyanti could be described as the primary flash of insight which is the spring of any idea before it fully develops into expression in terms of thought and words" (p. 36). Applied to acting, the exploration of this level of preverbal insight may result in a state of complete "readiness" that would allow for greater spontaneity and creativity (p. 39). Madhavan introduces Daniel Meyer-Dinkgräfe's work based on Vedic science, which proposes three basic levels of consciousness (waking, sleeping, dreaming) and four levels of higher consciousness (pure consciousness, cosmic consciousness, refined cosmic consciousness, and unity consciousness). For Meyer-Dinkgräfe, an "enlightened actor" should be operating at the higher levels of consciousness (p. 44). Madhavan ends her review of consciousness studies presenting the writings of Sreenath Nair in Restoration of Breath, Consciousness, and Performance, who "proposes that breathing is instrumental in attaining higher levels of consciousness" (Nair 2007: 45). She then looks for references to actor consciousness in performance studies, analyzing the work of Richard Schechner and Eugenio Barba. Madhavan's discussion of Schechner's and Barba's theories is not particularly compelling since they do not directly address issues of consciousness. The last section of this chapter looks "at the actor training methods developed by Stanislavski and Grotowski, mainly because of their emphasis on taking acting to higher levels of consciousness" (p. 64). This section, half the length of the former ones, adds little substance to Madhavan's argument and seems devised as a validation of...