The art form began as an all-male dance tradition, well known for full-length dance dramas. In the 20th century, two major figures – Guru Vedantam Lakshminarayana Sastry and Guru Vempati Chinnasatyam – helped expand the form to women and developed a solo repertoire.
Kuchipudi is based on the Natya Shastra, a codified text on dance, music and theater. Dancers use the gestures and movements identified in the Natya Shastra to bring alive any poem, song or text. While the content of most Kuchipudi dances is based on Hindu mythology, the form is flexible enough for choreographers to explore both spiritual and secular themes.
Today, a Kuchipudi performance is primarily performed on a proscenium stage, accompanied by a live orchestra consisting of a singer, a percussionist on mridangam, a violinist, and a flautist. The nattuvanar wields the cymbals and sets the pace of the entire performance. Together, they play swarams (notes) and ragams (melodies) from Carnatic music that supports the dancer’s performance.