Locating the “Sociopsychophysical” in One-on-one Kathakali Actor Training: Reconciling the “Old Social” with the “New Social” in an Australian Context

Author: Arjun Raina

Raina, Arjun, 2018 Locating the “Sociopsychophysical” in One-on-one Kathakali Actor Training: Reconciling the “Old Social” with the “New Social” in an Australian Context, Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

Terms of Use: This electronic version is (or will be) made publicly available by Flinders University in accordance with its open access policy for student theses. Copyright in this thesis remains with the author. You may use this material for uses permitted under the Copyright Act 1968. If you are the owner of any included third party copyright material and/or you believe that any material has been made available without permission of the copyright owner please contact copyright@flinders.edu.au with the details.


As its original contribution to knowledge, this practice-led research PhD claims as “sociopsychophysical” the actor training processes of the seventeenth-century Indian dance drama Kathakali. This dissertation locates within the intercultural site of Kathakali actor training in Australia its research into Kathakali’s sociopsychophysicality. The practitioner researcher is an experienced performer of Kathakali and is present at the research site as a master practitioner and teacher. Referencing the latest research in neuroscience on “mirror neurons,” the thesis argues for a reconceptualisation of Kathakali’s imitative methodology, advancing it from a previously recognised and reductive “mimicry,” to a more contemporary and complex “mirroring.” The research renegotiates traditional ideas of Indian aesthetics, claiming the performer’s aesthetic pleasure as an added vector to the well-established theory of rasa. Working within a theoretical framework of “embodiment,” this thesis uses the practitioner researcher’s body, self, culture, and existential being-in-the-Kathakali world as provocations for theoretical investigation.

This research progresses through three cycles of investigation. The first cycle of investigation is located in India, at the International Centre for Kathakali, New Delhi. Here the practitioner researcher worked as a disciple in a one-on-one relationship with a master practitioner or guru, while also observing the guru teach students. The second cycle is located in Melbourne, Australia where the researcher taught Kathakali to a group of sixteen contemporary performers. The third cycle has the researcher teaching two learners, one-on-one, in Melbourne, Australia. The first cycle functions as a site for autoethnographic research and data collection. The next two cycles function as practice-led sites for data collection and evaluation, offering up original insights for theoretical investigation. Practice-led and autoethnographic research are then, the two primary research methods supporting this investigation. The examinable element of the doctoral project comprises a 100% written thesis. A video documentation accompanies, as appendices, the written thesis, working as evidence of selected elements of the process

Keywords: Kathakali, Guru Shishya, Mirror Neurons, Intercultural, Actor training

Subject: Drama, Production thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2018
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: William Peterson