Mythili Prakash is one of the fastest rising stars of Bharatanatyam today. She has toured internationally presenting her own original choreographic works and is a regular performer during the Chennai December Season. Her complete commitment to dance led her to take the big decision to move from her native Los Angeles to Chennai three years ago, and her career has taken off to new heights ever since. “Since I moved to Chennai in 2006 my experience has been surprising all the way,” she says. “This is really the place to be because there’s so much to be inspired by here, there’s so much going on, and so many resources. I feel I’m in the correct environment and am really happy with my decision. I had initially come to Chennai with the plan to stay for about five months and spend time here, practice, and see performances. But during this time, it hit me that I would be happiest doing this full-time and that to do full justice to my dance I would need to be doing it full-time. I had started a Masters in Fine Arts programme in the US after graduating in Mass Communications from the University of California, Berkeley, but being here is like doing a PhD in Bharata Natyam!”
Mythili was no stranger to Indian stages before her move to India. She had presented her first solo performance in Mumbai at the age of eight and then would regularly perform with her mother and guru Viji Prakash during annual visits to India. She feels that her recent performance during the prestigious Madras Music Academy Dance Festival was an important milestone in her career. “I had already performed at the Music Academy when I was awarded the MGR award in 2000 and an endowment in 2007, but I was excited and happy to be invited to be part of their dance festival this year because it means I am being acknowledged as an upcoming dancer and this is very encouraging.”
Though Mythili has left her native California and moved thousands of miles away to a country she has never lived in before, she seems to be right at home. “I feel completely at home here. My accent makes me blaringly American and it seems to get me attention and everyone has to comment on it, but I feel both American and Indian. In California I feel at home too. But there aren’t many people who are only focused on dance so I feel out of place over there and in that sense more at home here.”
What’s it like to be an American dancer of Indian origin making waves in the Indian dance scene, which can be unwelcoming to dancers they perceive as outsiders? Mythili’s experience has been a positive one: “At first, there was a bit of that NRI perception when I used to come and perform in India. But since I was a young dancer, it was a surprise and audiences seemed impressed and happy that the art form was being preserved so well outside of India. But there’s also a questioning of whether it’s fair for an outsider to come here and take opportunities from local dancers? But I, too, have been working on my dance for a long time and I think now that I have moved here, they respect and appreciate that and I don’t feel like I’m treated like an outsider. Senior dancers and peers have been really supportive. I also feel lucky to have such inspiring mentors like Malavika Sarukkai and Bragha Bessell. I do a lot of my own choreography, so it’s essential to have somebody to guide you and tell you what you’re doing right or wrong every step of the way.”
One of Mythili’s aims is to introduce Bharatanatyam to a wider audience, especially in the US where the dance form is little known outside of Indian cultural circles. Mythili had the opportunity to do just that by recently participating in ‘Superstars of Dance’, a television show produced by the American television network NBC. This televised international dance competition features different dance styles from eight countries. Mythili was proud to represent India by performing solo Bharata Natyam. “I was excited to be part of this project and I think it’s a great opportunity to showcase a dance form like Bharata Natyam on primetime television and try to get it in the mainstream. It was a challenge because I only had a minute and a half to perform. But it was a great experience and I was happy to present Bharata Natyam to such a wide audience.”
This is an excerpt of an article published in the Spring 2009 issue of Pulse magazine.
Visit Mythili Prakash’s website here.
(Photos courtesy of Mythili Prakash.)