The themes for bharatanatyam
are often devotional in nature, with strong connections to Hindu mythology. In Singapore, it is associated with the practices of important Hindu festivals such as Pongal
dances vary according to purpose, including nritta
(technical dance) where the emphasis of the dance is on speed, form and rhythm, nritya
(expressional dance) which use stylised gestures to communicate story or feelings, and natya
(dramatic storytelling) where the dancer or dancers adopt specific postures or body movements as they play specific characters with elements of acting.
In addition to dance movements, a critical piece of the bharatanatyam is the expression of the dancer. As the dancer does not use props to tell the story, the meaning of the dance is conveyed through abhinaya (expressions), hand gestures and the eyes. There are numerous hand gestures or hasta mudras and each has a specific purpose.
The dance is accompanied by live musicians and a vocalist, performing in a Carnatic style. This style of music is devotional in nature. The performance is a collaborative effort with musicians and percussionists playing to support the technical skills of the dancer.
The outfit for female bharatanatyam dancers is typically made of a sari material and custom-tailored for each dancer. The blouse piece or choli is covered with a piece of cloth known as dhavani. The bottom piece is either skirt or pants that includes stitched pleats which begin from the waist. Gold jewellery is also used, including a belt at the waist and ghunghru (anklets with bells). The latter is significant as it makes the rhythmic footwork of the dance audible. Vivid face make-up highlights the expressions of the eyes, while henna on the fingers highlight gestures. Male dancers have simpler costumes, using a dhoti and without vivid make-up.
For kathakali, the narrative that accompanies a performance is called attakatha. It is sung by narrators using a literary genre written in Malayalised Sanskrit known as Manipravalam. The genre comprises verses and dialogue that are usually narrative descriptions of the scene and mood of the characters. The attakatha stories depicted in kathakali are often drawn from the two Hindu epics, the Ramayana and Mahabharata, and from the devotional Bhagavata Purana.
In a kathakali performance, two vocalists take turns to sing verses in the melody and rhythm specified by the author of the attakatha without any rhythmic accompaniment. They perform using a vocal style known as sopana, derived from the Carnatic vocal tradition which often features two singers, the ponnani and the shinkiti.
The elaborate costumes and make-up of kathakali dancers are distinctive and are used to showcase different character types. Heroic male characters called paccha are identifiable by their green faces. Demons can be made out by the black colour on their faces, while abrasive and angry characters (chuvanna tadi) are identified by stylised red beards. More prominent characters representing deities such as Hanuman are identified by the blue make-up.
Kathak is often a solo that is short and vigorous, accompanied with a drumming repertoire. It has a progressive tempo, and its musical accompaniment is mostly derived from the north Indian Hindustani classical music form. Footwork is important, and solos contain sequences of swift spins, often executed on left heel. Dancers fix a set of ghunghru (anklets with bells), numbering between one and two hundred, to each ankle. This lower-body movement is contrasted with graceful movements and postures of the upper body, hands and arms.
Kathak performances include components such as the abhinaya, a set of expressive gestures or pantomime to outline the plotlines of particular narrative. The vandana is a choreographed evocation of a deity through iconic gestures and postures accompanying Sanskrit prayer, and done with reserved reverence interspersed with footwork. The end of a kathak is marked by intricate spins called cakkars, and the presentation of a kavita, a rhythmic poem. On the whole, when compared to other Indian dances, such as bharathanatyam, the tenor of kathak is more withdrawn and reserved. Costumes of kathak are not as extensive and intricate, as it reflects everyday lifestyles. Performers of both genders wear the churidar (drawstring trousers) which bunches around the ankle, accompanied by ghungroos (anklets with bells). Angharkas or coats are worn by both genders, and accompanied by skirts- producing noticeable effect during kathak spins. While costumes are not as extensive, the choice of the fabrics is often fancy and detailed with embroidery made of silk.