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An epic, in three-part disharmony

Mythili Prakash's one-woman 'Stree Katha' is long on dazzle, but short on dancers.

August 20, 2007|Victoria Looseleaf | Special to The Times

Sporting more bling than a Tiffany window, the beautiful bharata natyam dancer Mythili Prakash attempted an ambitious one-person show over the weekend at Venice's Electric Lodge. Titled "Stree Katha," the two-hour performance was Prakash's feminist interpretation of three tragic heroines from the ancient Indian epic the Ramayana.

Three doomed women, however, were two too many for lone dancer.

Prakash, 25, also wrote the text, which featured excerpts from Maya Angelou's "Phenomenal Woman"; designed the garb; and provided some of the voice-over narration. In short, she needed a director, especially one to cast additional dancers; her characterizations, including heavy miming, were too similar; and the numerous scene transitions and costume changes proved tedious.

The good news? There were moments of lovely dance and fine accompaniment: Debur Srivathsa composed an exciting score and performed vocals with percussionist Venkatesan Vedakrishnaram and flutist Mahesh Swamy. Mythili's mother, celebrated dancer Viji Prakash, also supplied live narrative and crisp finger-cymbal work.

After a voice-over recounted the tale of warrior queen Keikeyi, who banished the hero, Rama, to the forest, Prakash entered in amber silk and struck mountain-sturdy balances before traversing the floor with speed and rhythmically complex footwork, only to disappear while the narration continued. Disconcerting, this ploy disrupted fluidity, while the tinkling of Prakash's ankle bells continued from the rear of the theater where, unseen, she would change her top.

As the Rama-seducing demoness, Shurpanaka, Prakash wielded a spangled scarlet shawl. Slicing the air with her arms and slapping hennaed feet in fierce determination, she hurled the garment to the floor before a shawl wrangler obtrusively retrieved it. While looks of surprise, ruefulness, denial and anger crossed her face, she also demonstrated that every finger can tell a story as hers wagged frenziedly.

But love hurts, and as Sita, a single mother raising two sons in the woods, was reunited with Rama, Prakash -- now making use of method acting -- shed tears when he questioned her integrity. Rising and falling on one leg, she climaxed this segment by briefly trance-spinning before ending statue-like, her hands prayerful.

Alas, it was not the end: As a beaming but fatigued Prakash danced anew, the narration asked if these stories still happen.

But dance doesn't need words; it needs shaping, editing and motivation to justify a performance, not merely stories, steps and smiles, no matter how dazzling.

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