Bharatanatyam exponent Mythili Prakash chose US as her home but Indian dance is what truly defines her identity

It’s 1am in Los Angeles, and Bharatanatyam dancer Mythili Prakash is terribly jet-lagged. Just the previous evening, at the OzAsia Festival at Adelaide, Australia, Prakash was part of two performances of the famous Akram Khan Dance Company’s latest production, Outwitting the Devil. Inspired from a recently discovered fragment of the 12 broken clay tablets that comprise the ancient Epic of Gilgamesh (a poem from ancient Mesopotamia often regarded as the earliest surviving great work of literature), OTD, short for Outwitting the Devil premiered in July this year and has toured nine cities across the globe already. 

There’s pin drop silence in her Californian home but her heart, she says, is full. When she got home from the airport, her four-and-a-half-year-old daughter Rumi, who was meeting her mother after 45 days, was nothing short of thrilled. “Motherhood is an amazing gift, but I often feel caught in the struggle between being the mother I’d like to be and giving dance my all,” says Prakash, when I ask how tough it is to commit time away from her daughter. “But let me be honest; dance is my first baby; this entire process with Outwitting the Devil has been such an incredible opportunity to grow and truly spend quality time with my dance. It was a huge decision—that I made with a lot of support from the family—mother, husband, brother—and I must say that Rumi is handling it incredibly; so understanding in her own little way.”

Prakash in Outwitting the Devil

2019 has been, for Prakash, all of what a creative artiste aspires for—exciting, challenging and eye-opening. In addition to being a part of the intense creative process of OTD with Akram, his creative team and the five uniquely skilled dancers, Prakash also managed to carve out chunks of time to choreograph and premiere her work Here and Now at the Dance Umbrella Festival in London in October this year. Aside from the fact that it was a significant step for Bharatanatyam to be showcased at a festival that is exclusively dedicated to contemporary dance, Here and Now is special for more reasons than one. The work is a solo exploration of sorts, of her relationship with the idea of Time as a mother and an artiste. “The starting point was one of my favourite childhood stories, Narada and the story of Maya, a simple illustration of a profound philosophy that questions our perception of reality. Honestly, the piece is about the longing to experience timelessness.” And yet, strangely, Prakash says the last few months leading up to the premiere of Here and Now, “meant working on choreography through the day and performing Outwitting the Devil in the evening. [It] was a lesson in being present”. 

Prakash broke into Chennai’s Bharatanatyam scene more than a decade ago, as a fairly young dancer sharing space with legendary artistes in the prestigious Margazhi festival of music and dance that unfolds annually in Chennai between December and January. And although her year has been about explorations using the vocabulary of Bharatanatyam, there is a certain comfort and delight, she says, in being able to perform the classical repertoire. “I can’t wait to perform a margam (full-length Bharatanatyam repertoire) in Chennai,” she says. 

Mythili Prakash

Prakash’s relationship with dance is almost as old as her, 37. Her mother, Viji Prakash, an acclaimed Bharatanatyam dancer and teacher based in Los Angeles, was also Prakash’s first teacher. “Dance was my first language,” she says, “Through the music, the stories, the characters and the philosophy of it, I identified the world around me. That’s perhaps why even though my passport and accent are American, my connection with Indian dance is truly what shapes my identity.” 

Photographs: Michel Cavalca 

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