As Odissi is a sculptural dance, Kuchipudi can be said to be a thematic dance. The most important theme in Kuchipudi is the Bhama-Kalaapam, conceived by Siddhendra Yogi approximately in the 14th century. This is the most popular dance-drama in the Kuchipudi repertory affording maximum scope for abhinaya. It is woven around the story of Satyabhama's jealousy when Krishna favored his other queen Rukmini with a "Parijata" flower. She insists that he should bring the entire tree, which grows in heaven for her. Finally Narada, the mischief-maker, ends the quarrel by teaching the two ladies that true "bhakti" is the only way to win Krishna's love. In this drama, two ideals of womanhood are portrayed. Rukmini is the noble, dignified, ethical type while Bhama is the aesthetic ideal-vain, imperious, and possessive. In olden days this dance-drama used to be completed in 9 or 10 nights although there are only five characters-namely Krishna, Rukmini, Bhama, Narada and a sakhi!
The second most popular theme is the "Golla Kalaapam" written by Bhagvatulu Ramaiyya, himself a great dancer, in the 19th century. It is a philosophical discourse between a milkmaid and a Brahmin. The performance of Golla Kalaapam is more difficult than the Bhama-Kalaapam.
Other popular themes are the coronation of Rama, victory of Prahlada etc. But the item that wins the maximum applause is the "Balagopala Tarangam", which centers around Krishna's boyhood pranks. It is an item that gives full scope to the dancer to perform impressive balancing feats and reveal their technical virtuosity. With her two feet on the edges of a brass plate (thali), and balancing a pail of water on her head, the dancer executes various difficult steps while traversing the whole stage, dancing on the "thali."
Another unique item in Kuchipudi is the Taala chitra nritya in which the dancers draw pictures of gods, sacred vehicles, birds, and animals with their dancing toes. For instance an outline of Lord Ganesha (the elephant-headed god) is drawn when dancing the Ganpathi Kavutham, a peacock is drawn with the dancing feet to the accompaniment of Mayoora Kavutham, and a lion to the accompaniment of Simhanandana taal. These performances are unique to Kuchipudi.
The movements in Kuchipudi are more relaxed, rounded, lively and quick-paced in comparison with Bharatnatyam. Esther Sherman from America, also known as Ragini Devi, and a great pioneer in the revival of Indian classical dances wrote: "In Kuchipudi nritya, Indian classical dancing has found a fluent medium of dramatic expression in dance, having an extensive vocabulary of gestures for conveying narrative and dramatic themes, moods, and states in the Natya Shastra traditions".