Kuchipudi is a dance style from the southern state of Andhra Pradesh. It can be rightly called a dance drama. Kuchipudi, in effect, is the concept of total theatre where there is the combination of all the four abhinayas like vaachika – spoken words, aangika – physical movements, saattvika – that which has to do with the sentiments human emotions and aaharya – the costuming.
Kuchipudi is a small little village in the Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh. And the dance style or dance drama is traditionally practiced by very high caste Brahmins. It is believed that it was created in the 15th century A.D. and later the saint Siddhendra Yogi added a lot of vim and vigour into the dancing. The most characteristic feature of this dance style is its scintillating and very vivacious footwork and body movements. It has a lot of conquettery in it because it has to do a lot with the feminine aspect.
The basic purpose of Kuchipudi is extollation of the virtues and great deeds of Lord Vishnu and it follows the Bhaagavatam. In Kuchipudi traditionally no woman is allowed to take part and the female roles are enacted by nubile Brahmin boys. It is also a composite art in the sense that different actors enact different roles but no art can be static. In the past three or four decades solo items have been created and are being performed.
In the development of Kuchipudi two yogis appear to have played a key role. These are Tirtha Narayana Yati and his disciple Siddhendra Yogi. Both of them were devout bhaktas of Shri Krishna. Their great love manifested into outpouring of exquisite bhakti literature. Tirtha Narayana wrote the Krishna Leelaa Tarangini in the form of a musical opera. The disciple Siddhendra Yogi wrote the famous shringaara kaavya Paarijaatapaharana. While presenting this in the form of dance-drama he shunned the devadasis and, instead, selected nubile Brahmin boys to enact the roles. This dance drama is performed even today and stands as a masterpiece in this genre.
The technique of Kuchipudi exhibits a fine balance between nritta, nritta and naatya elements, the last preponderating in the vaachika abhinaya. Thus the Kuchipudi actor/dancer not only sings his pieces and dances them but also himself/herself speaks the dialogues.
Two very characteristic facets of Kuchipudi performance are the character of the Sutradhaara (conductor) of the performance and the praveshadaru which is a small composition of dance and song whereby each character announces himself/herself and reveals his or her identity in the most skillfull manner.
Another special feature of the presentation is pagati veshamu which is a comic sequence in a play but which is not from the original text. This is added to relieve the seriousness of some of the original sequences and is acted out impromptu.