Recently I’ve experienced the transformative power of make-up from a dual perspective. On my journey to India in October, I saw a demonstration of Kathakali, a ritual dance-theater from the state of Kerala. Kathakali performers typically apply their make-up in front of the audience before the drama begins. Tourists, myself among them, get to watch (and take pictures) as the actors perform the preparation ritual. Painting their faces with brightly colored dyes, they assume the guises of characters from the dance-drama. The effect is is one of total transformation. The actor is unrecognizable in his mythic persona. The dance itself involves exaggerated facial expressions, executed with rhythmic precision. The elaborate make-up is integral to the characterization and also enhances the perception of the expressive movements.
A couple of weeks later, I found myself in Montreal as the subject of an Art Nouveau makeover. My own elaborate hairdo and make-up were for a video shoot arranged by Moment Factory, a multi-media installation company based in that city. The idea was to make video projections of me dancing “a La Loie” which will be included as part of the Fête des lumières in Lyon, France this coming December. The projections will be large-scale, so the organizers wanted to make the face and overall effect quite dramatic. Loie herself embodied the spirit of Art Nouveau, so the makeover was period-appropriate. As inspiration, the office wall where I was being “done” was adorned with images of Nouveau-style women: trailing locks of hair adorned, seemingly spontaneously, with garlands of flowers. After three hours in the hands of make-up artist Laurie Deraps, I had abundant hair-extensions, false eyelashes, faux flowers and pearls artfully arranged in around my hair and face. Looking in the mirror, I saw myself transformed into a fantasy from another century.