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Scion of Indian dance takes center stage

Mythili Prakash, a 22-year-old bharata natyam dancer, does her predecessors proud in a recital that shows her maturing.

June 07, 2005|Chris Pasles | Times Staff Writer

Toward the end of her long solo dance recital Sunday at the Wadsworth Theatre in Brentwood, Mythili Prakash bowed deeply to touch the hands of one of the musicians: her mother and guru, famed bharata natyam dancer Viji Prakash.

Such a gesture is never perfunctory. It signals a major difference between Indian and Western dance. The dancer is acknowledging a spiritual connection with the teacher, who in turn is a link in a long chain stretching back ideally to heavenly sources.

This link is also the subject of much of Indian dance, whether playful, as in "Padam," in which one woman chastises the Lord Krishna for spending the night with another, or deeply serious, as when Arjuna, a hero of the Hindu epic "The Mahabharata," beseeches Krishna for weapons to fight that apocalyptic war.

Never is such dance mere entertainment. It is about right relationship -- humans to gods, dancers to teachers, or spectators to dancers, their surrogates.

Both vignettes were part of Prakash's grueling, multi-part recital. At 22, she does not yet have the razor-sharp precision in shifts in position and in terminations as her mother did, and understandably she showed some signs of fatigue. A bharata natyam dancer, after all, has to be able to sustain long passages of rapid, rhythmically complex footwork as well as evoke a wide range of characters and emotions.

But this daughter shares with her mother a sunniness and integrity in approach, and her ability to shift among characters is quite accomplished and mature. In a depiction of the infamous dice game in "The Mahabharata," in which the evil uncle, Shakuni, cheats the Panduva king, Yudhishthira, out of kingdom, brothers and wife, Prakash brought each individual to distinctive life.

Perhaps best was her ability to show their inner thoughts, as when Queen Draupadi, utterly humiliated at her husband's gambling her away into slavery, prays to Krishna for a miracle to keep her from being disrobed in public and then rises to full stature to vow bitter, bloody vengeance on her tormentors.

In addition to vocalist Viji Prakash, the musicians included vocalist Hari Prasad, percussionist Venkatesan Vedakrishnaram, flutist Mahesh Swamy and violinist Krishna Kutty.

Venkatesh Krishnan came up with a simplistic lighting scheme, but doubtless he did what he could with the limited resources available to him.

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