CHAT Young Bharatanatyam exponent Mythili Prakash on what she loves about her art. ANJANA RAJAN
Bharatanatyam, like the rest of the world, often seems to be going the physical way, where little is left to subtlety and the physical dynamics dazzle audiences, especially when performed by agile young dancers. Many would agree its real potency ignites when stamina and agility combine with intellect and spirit, and young dancers who tread this more exciting — because unpredictable — path are welcomed. One such is Mythili Prakash, born and brought up in the U.S. and trained under her mother, well known Bharatanatyam exponent Viji Prakash. Mythili now divides her time between Chennai and Los Angeles.
Ask this impressive dancer with chiselled movements and long limbs that negotiate rhythmic patterns with precision what themes she likes to develop through her Bharatanatyam, and Mythili responds, “First and foremost, it is spirituality that speaks to me and that has made dance closer to me. Over the recent years, my spiritual practice has become a focus both within and without dance, but dance is the most enjoyable way to express my thoughts, sentiments, and experiences. Everything I do, whether pieces of the traditional repertoire or work outside of that, are somehow, either obviously or subtly, anchored to the idea of seeking and the astounding inner world.” She feels it makes “the experience of dancing and creating dance so immediately and intensely personal.”
Appropriately, Mythili performed at the recent seminar “Mad and Divine” curated by Anita Ratnam at Karthik Fine Arts in Chennai, where the annual music-dance season is in high gear. The performance was called “Aikya: in the voice of Akka Mahadevi”. Says Mythili over email, “Akka Mahadevi was a 12th Century mystic from Karnataka, one whose story and vachanas (poetic verses) hold a very special significance to me. This work sought to reflect her life and the intensity of her spiritual transformation through selected vachanas.”
It was the poet's human journey that appealed to Mythili. “I felt it important to portray her as a person who lived in the world and interacted with society, and simultaneously followed her burning desire for aikya (Union with the Beloved), attaining mahasamadhi in her mid-20s,” she says, adding, “No doubt, people such as this are extraordinary, but it is imperative to me that we realise they walk among us even here and today, as role-models, reminding us of our own potential.”
During the Chennai season perhaps even more than in other festivals, the timing offered to performers labels them as either upcoming or established artistes.
This January, Mythili will be performing in the Music Academy Dance Festival's ‘prime time' 6 p.m. slot. “I'm truly honoured, and very excited,” says Mythili. “It is of course a great responsibility. But that responsibility should be there either way, no matter the sabha nor the slot. I think of it as positive reinforcement to continue working in pursuit of excellence.”
For this performance she has planned a more conventional margam — Bharatanatyam's traditional repertoire. “The first two pieces are not existing compositions from the repertoire, though the centre piece mirrors a varnam in format. They are pieces that resonate deeply for me, and so I always look forward to dancing them and sharing them,” says Mythili.
Bharatanatyam may no longer be a novelty in the U.S., but practising there and in Chennai — considered a bastion of authenticity — is certainly different. Mythili feels both have their pros and cons. “Chennai feels like a very artistically stimulating environment. One has constant access to resources such as musicians, scholars, senior mentors, performances, and culture as a whole. I do however find that, like any scene, there are rampant politics, and one must make a concerted effort to keep focused on the art.”
Being away for some months of the year to teach at her mother's school Shakti gives her a change of pace that she finds “healthy and necessary”.