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KP Kunhiraman Dies Three Days Before SF Ethnic Dance Festival Performance

Port of San Francisco

KP Kunhiraman Dies Three Days Before SF Ethnic Dance Festival Performance

Was to have received lifetime achievement award Saturday evening, June 14

Media contact: David Perry & Associates, Inc / (415) 693-0583 /

11 June 2014 — San Francisco, CA: K.P. Kunhiraman, one of the world’s foremost artists of Indian Kathakali dance, has died in his home city of Chennai, India. He was 83. In three days, on Saturday, June 14, he and his wife Katherine were to have been honored by Indian Consul General Nagesh Parthasarathi with the Festival’s annual Malonga Casquelourd Lifetime Achievement Award. Kunhiraman first performed at the Festival 36 years ago, in the very first San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival program in May 1978.

“We are heartbroken to hear that K.P. Kunhiraman has just passed away,” said Julie Mushet, Executive Director of the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival. “He was so excited for his travels to San Francisco to dance kathakali and to receive his award with Katherine. He was the only male Kathakali dancer in America that we know of, and one of the highest regarded kathakali masters in the whole world. With his passing, this transcendent cultural tradition is greatly diminished. Our condolences go out to his family and dear ones.”

This year’s Festival was to mark K.P. Kunhiraman’s final U.S. appearance. Of all of the classical Indian dance forms, kathakali is the most stylized and is often compared to the kabuki tradition of Japan, especially in regards to the elaborate make-up worn by the performers. This year’s Festival was to have been the cap to an illustrious 67-year career for Kunhiraman. He had been rehearsing daily in preparation for the weekend’s festivities.

While the Festival has often featured four of the classical Indian forms—bharatanatyam, kathak, kuchipudi, and odissi—rarer are the remaining four: kathakali, manipuri, mohiniyattam, and sattriya. This weekend of Indian classical dance performances is presented in partnership with Sangam Arts, a Bay-Area non-profit dedicated to connecting cultures through Indian classical arts.

According to his wife, Kunhiraman came down with an infection that quickly spread to his blood (septicemia) and he died today in a Chennai hospital. Per Hindu tradition, Kunhiraman’s body was cremated shortly after his death.

“Katherine flew to Chennai immediately upon word of the infection, and was at his side for his final hours and as he took his last breath,” said Mushet. “I know that she brought a copy of the SF Chronicle ‘Pink Section’ article about Kunhiraman with her, so he saw that in the hospital before he passed. It must have brought him some joy to know that he was being recognized for his life’s work here in America!”

World Arts West is dedicating the Festival to him, and people are encouraged to bring notes and flowers to the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater this weekend to add to an altar in his memory.


June 14 & 15 – Festival Weekend Two: Eight classical Indian dance forms presented in partnership with Sangam Arts: Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater, 700 Howard Street, San Francisco

This is a rare presentation of all eight classical Indian dance forms on one stage. Performances by Chitresh Das Dance Company (Kathak), Guru Shradha (Odissi), Kalanjali: Dances of India (Bharatanatyam), Bhavajan Kumar (Bharatanatyam) , K.P. Kunhiraman (Kathakali), Sujata Mohapatra (Odissi), Sunanda Nair (Kathakali and Mohiniyattam), Natyalaya (Kuchipudi), Nava Dance Theatre (Bharatanatyam), Sohini Ray (Manipuri), Sattriya Dance Company (Sattriya).

Saturday, June 14, 1pm & 7pm*
Sunday, June 15, 1pm 

*The June 14, 7pm performance includes the presentation of the Malonga Casquelourd Lifetime Achievement Award to Katherine and the recently deceased K.P. Kunhiraman, founders of Kalanjali: Dances of India, of Berkeley.

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