Traditionally, a kathakali would begin in the evening and last until dawn. Today, many are abridged versions, lasting four hours or less. There are 101 classic stories that can be staged in a kathakali, but less than a third are performed today.
The kathakali dancing consists of nritya (pure dance) and abhinaya (mime). To help tell the story, kathakali employs various dance movements and mudras (symbolic gestures that are also used in yoga). Through these gestures, footwork and body movements, the kathakali performer communicates phrases and stories.
The makeup is symbolic, too. Certain colors indicate the category and nature of the character portrayed by the dancer. For example, a god, such as Rama, or other noble male character will have his face painted green.