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Kathakali-inspired Orpheus and Eurydice, Theatre Traditions in a Global Context, Barnard College, Fall 2017

Course Professor: Shayoni Mitra

Costumes Designer and Seamstress: Ilana Lupkin

Makeup Design: Allison Salwen and

Madeleine Willis

Photographer: Ilana Lupkin

     For this assignment, I worked with my peers to create a kathakali-inspired performance of Orpheus and Eurydice, in which each of the characters in the performance was inspired by a different kathakali character-type.

 In Diane Daugherty’s “The Pendulum of Intercultural Performance: Kathakali King Lear at Shakespeare’s Globe," she  explains Bharucha’s pendulum model of intercultural performance as a lens through which to approach the development and execution of intercultural kathakali performance. According to the pendulum model, intercultural performance requires striking an equal balance between the content of the two different cultures involved in the performance (Daugherty 55). I applied a sort of “pendulum-model”-esque approach when costume designing the performance to create a sort of balance or merging between kathakali style and elements of Greco-Roman style. 

    When conceptualizing the costumes for the performance, I felt it crucial to maintain the silhouette and color palettes of kathakali costumes, as I felt that the silhouette is one of the most identifiable elements of kathakali costumes. One of the biggest challenges I encountered during the design process was creating the voluminous skirts characteristic of traditional kathakali costumes. While I initially intended achieve the volume of the skirts using pleated newspaper, I quickly concluded that this method would be too time consuming to create for five different costumes. In researching costume concepts for Urinetown, a show that I costume designed, I discovered a tutorial for tutus made of plastic grocery bags that I realized would be a more efficient way to achieve the skirt volume. I used the tutus as a sort of petticoat for the skirts rather than having them visible, as I did not want the fact that the skirts were made of plastic bags to detract or distract from the audience’s experience of viewing the performance. In addition to maintaining the silhouette of the kathakali costumes, I decided to incorporate the color palette of each character type’s makeup into their costumes because, given the group decision to do a more minimal version of the makeup, I wanted ensure the ability to easily identify the different characters.

      While I tried to maintain silhouette of traditional kathakali garments, I chose to embellish the borders of the skirts as way of conveying information about the individual characters. This creative choice was inspired by Ancient Roman togas, where the borders of the garment provided information about the wearer.[1] The artistic choice to embellish the skirt rims was done as a way of merging the kathakali style and silhouette of costume with elements of Greco-Roman influence to reflect the origin of the myth told through the performance. Similarly, my choice to incorporate wreaths as headpieces into the costuming of the three major characters (Orpheus, Hades, and Persephone) was done as a way of merging components of kathakali costuming with elements of Greco-Roman style.


[1] For example, the toga praetexta was a white tunic with a purple border, and it was worn by magistrates, high-priests, and children of members of nobility (Tortora and Eubank 83)

Click on the images for more information on the costume concepts behind each character. 

Works Cited

Daugherty, Diane. “The Pendulum of Intercultural Performance: ‘Kathakali King Lear’ at Shakespeare's Globe.” Asian Theatre Journal, vol. 22, no. 1, 2005, pp. 52–72. JSTOR,

“Hades , the Greek God of the Underworld.” GreekGods.Info,

Mitra, Shayoni. “Kathakali.” Theatre Traditions in a Global Context. 24 Oct. 2017, New York, Barnard College.


Peacock, John. “Ancient Civilizations.” The Chronicle of Western Costume: From the Ancient World to the Late Twentieth Century, Thames & Hudson, 1991, pp. 9–25.

Tortora, Phyllis G., and Keith Eubank. “Etruria and Rome c. 800  B.C.-A.D. 400.” Survey of Historic Costume: A History of Western Dress, 5th ed., Fairchild Books, 2010, pp. 75–97.


Zarrilli, Phillip B.  Kathakali Dance Drama: Where Gods and Demons Come to Play, Routledge, 2000.

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