Friday, August 13, 2010

More on Asian Christian Theatre and hand movements

The comment about the interest struck in mime-types by the hand movements in Thai dance made me want to write just a little bit more about it.  I imagine there is a strong historical link between classical mime, and its codified movements, and Asian dance forms.

There is certainly a shared history between Thai dance-drama and Indian dance-drama, with some speculating that the original dance movements came from India.  This would be borne out by the Natyasastra, a comprehensive dramaturgical manual, attributed to Bharata, a sage. The book came into existence sometime between the second and eighth century A.D., and lays out detailed description of every aspect of drama, from its origin with Brahma, to the prescripted hand, feet, eye and body movements, from the types of plays and characters to descriptions of emotion and action. 

A large portion of the Natyasastra is dedicated to the detailed description of body movements and their meanings. It is a complete body sign language. This includes mudras (meaningful positions) for the hands, feet, eyes, head, positions for the body (placement of hips, legs, torso), and combinations of each.  For example, the "Pataka" is made with thumb bent and other fingers stretched out. This conveys striking, driving, joy, pride and so on. If both hands and fingers are moving, it suggests rain, showering of flowers, etc. The precise positioning and meaning of each are prescribed in the Natyasastra and form the basis of all Classical Theatre/Dance movements. The effect is that of mime combined with dance, as dancers emote with their faces and let the emotion and action come through their movements. Only specialists are versed in the meaning of the mudras, but the beauty of the movements is widely appreciated.

(This information is taken from my doctoral dissertation when discussing how drama differs in its various aspects from culture to culture.)

For a great article about Christian Thai Likay dance-drama, go to this link:  It is an article written for Lausanne World Pulse e-mag by Allan Eubank.

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