2022 Trilogy: AR | DHA, Poo | Poo, One |All
In 2023, Mythili created a Triology of pieces initiated by a commission by Jacob’s Pillow for the program “American(a) – to me” celebrating the 90th Jacob’s Pillow Festival and the inauguration of the newly renovated Ted Shawn Theatre. The three pieces are different explorations of the following myth:
Shiva invites his “other half” – Kali – to a dance competition. When Kali is undefeatable, Shiva creates the illusion of dropping his earring, disrupting the competition. He lifts it with his toe, and raises his leg to his ear, replacing the earring, while performing this formidable pose. Kali, though equally skilled, bound by the constructs of her femininity (a woman shouldn’t raise her leg!), surrenders. And Shiva wins the competition.
Can we re-imagine this story?
Ardhanari is the fused form of the male God Shiva and the female God Shakti (Kali) and is celebrated as a symbol of liminal space, oneness, and inclusivity. Reflecting on the power dynamics in the name itself, Ardhanari or “half-woman” (where the half-man seems to be implied), AR | DHA examines notions of division, polarity, equity and acceptability through the re-imagining of a popular myth: the dance competition between Gods Shiva and Kali.
Choreography: Mythili Prakash
Poetry: Perumal Murugan
Music Composition: Aditya Prakash, ganavya doraiswamy
Lighting Design: Mike Faba
Performed by: Mythili Prakash (dance), Sushma Soma (vocal), Rajna Swaminathan (percussion), ganavya doraiswamy (vocal & double bass), Kasi Aysola (nattuvangam)
Poo | Poo
In Tamizh, “Poo” means flower.
In English, “Poo” means shit.
As children of Immigrants, we are at once Eastern and Western, marginalized and privileged. As artists of a classical tradition, we are practitioners of a form that is at once beautiful and oppressive, harmonious and conflicting. How can we negotiate the tension and fluidity of being at once this AND that?
The re-imagining of a myth – The dance off between Gods Kali and Shiva – becomes a vehicle for the re-defining of our roles as performers embodying past and present, and moving between distinctions of stylized and pedestrian, dancer and musician, choreographed and improvised. The process of creating the piece has in many ways become the piece itself – questions of “acceptability” that emerged in creation finding themselves into the content of the work.
Conceived, Researched and Created by: Mythili Prakash, Sushma Soma, Aditya Prakash, Rajna Swaminathan, ganavya Doraiswamy
Lighting Design: Mike Faba
Presented by: Indo-American Arts Council, New York
One | All
Commissioned and created for the “Future of Movement” Festival curated by Benjamin Millepied and Nico Muhly around the FIFA World Cup, ONE | ALL by choreographer Mythili Prakash explores, celebrates, and challenges the ideals of a “match” through the context of an ancient Indian myth: The Dance off between Gods Shiva and Kali.
Prakash asks, Can we re-imagine this story?
Why is a One All score not an acceptable conclusion to a match? Must there always be victory and defeat? Is equity not worthy of celebration? What does this say about our societal values?
In her re-telling:
Shiva lifts his leg. Kali lifts her leg too.
The competition continues. In fact, after sometime there is no competition, no competitors. They lose themselves in the dance, in each other. All boundaries fall away – they dance fusing their forms into ONE.
The making of this work has been supported by Hawkwood CT (UK), and Sky Arts in collaboration with Akram Khan Company (UK).
Concept & Choreography: Mythili Prakash
Sound Design: Mythili Prakash, Aditya Prakash
Performed by: Mythili Prakash (dance), Aditya Prakash (vocal), Sushma Soma (vocal), Nina Harries (Double Bass), Prathap Ramachandran (percussion)
She’s Auspicious (Now touring)
“She’s Auspicious” blurs the lines between Goddess and Woman to explore the paradox of femininity. The piece references mythology and cultural practices surrounding the Goddess as well as societal expectations of femininity.
For Mythili, the starting point of this piece has been a study of her identity – as a woman, a mother, and a person of privilege – an upper-caste practitioner of a dance form with a complicated history of erasure. The piece also examines notions of beauty, harmony, and restraint that are characteristic to all of those identities and to the practice and performance of Bharatanatyam itself.
“In this work, I seek to test my own boundaries by working into the structure of the piece ways to push myself to an emotional edge – into a space of honesty that is more “experiential” than “depictive.” By inhabiting the character of the Goddess, who is created by male Gods, generated with their energy and weapons, and programmed to kill an army of demons, I seek to embody and linger in psychological states that challenge the ideals of “restraint” that characterize femininity in both classical dance and in society. In doing this, I connect to my own lived and observed experiences as a woman that have driven the impulse to create this piece. “ – Mythili Prakash
Concept & Choreography: Mythili Prakash
Sound Design: Aditya Prakash, Mythili Prakash, Sushma Soma
Music Production: Aditya Prakash
Lighting Design: Seah Johnson
Dance – Mythili Prakash
Vocal – Sushma Soma
Vocal and Veena – Ananya Ashok
Percussion – Shubha Chandramouli
Sound Engineer: Julian Le
HERE and NOW
“..the distinction between the past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.” – Albert Einstein
Inspired by one of her favorite childhood myths: Narada and the Story of Maya, Mythili explores her complex relationship with time, as a mother, artist, and human being. The starting point of this exploration is the “illusory” nature of time as elucidated in Eastern Philosophy and Myth.
“Through the Bharatanatyam idiom, Here and Now explores my relationship with time and the struggle to be in the present, inspired by my personal realities as a female dance practitioner. Negotiating the demands of touring lifestyle, schedules, motherhood, home and family, creative impulses, and a changing body, I wonder – can I have it all?”
HERE and NOW was created by the Four by Four Commission of Dance Umbrella, Nominated by Dancer/Choreographer Akram Khan as “Choreographer of the Future.”
Dance Concept and Choreography: Mythili Prakash
Sound Design & Music Production: Aditya Prakash, Sumesh Narayanan
Vocal: Sushma Soma
Percussion: Sumesh Narayanan
Lighting Design: Guy Hoare
Sound Engineer: Mark Webber
Excerpts are from live performance at Dance Umbrella Festival 2019
Location: Ashcroft Theatre, Croydon UK
Jwala – Rising Flame
Jwala explores the enigmatic quality of the Flame: that which burns is that which simultaneously illuminates. Created after the passing of her father and the birth of her daughter, Jwala finds connection between saying good-bye and looking ahead, between release and hope, between shedding and seeking. Strong, yet vulnerable, the flickering Flame is a symbol that connects all the worlds: the cosmic, the temporal, and the spiritual.
In the transfixing solo “Jwala: Rising Flame,” Ms. Prakash invokes the image of fire and its behavior: how it moves, what it means, what it gives and takes from us. Her warmth and brightness as a performer suit the theme; those qualities surfaced as soon as the light came up on her slowly turning figure. Five musicians, including her brother, the vocalist Aditya Prakash, joined her onstage, and from the first moment, music and dance worked together in trance-inducing harmony. -The New York Times, April 2016
“The innovations here were subtle, both musical and choreographic. Like many bharatanatyam evenings, this one had a theme: the flame as a symbol of life, inspiration, and the universe.
Throughout, her connection to the music was intense. At times, her fingers became a visualization of the rhythm, rising and falling…..she embodied the qualities of a flame, using her hands to evoke its ever-changing nature. The flickering of her fingers and wrists, the only part of her that moved, was mesmerizing. Later, her whole body became the flame, filling the tage with her spins……One of the songs was atypical, a setting of a Sufi poem….In response, Prakash’s dancing became meltingly fluid, with a creamy legato; she seemed to swim through the air, her eyes closed. (The song was called “Becoming,” and developed the idea of losing oneself in infinity.)” –Dance Tabs Magazine, April 2016.
(Features Mythili and a Quintet of Musicians)
Seasons of Love
Originally commissioned in 2010 by the Getty Center, Los Angeles, Seasons of love brings to the fore the expressive, theatrical element of Bharata Natyam, wherein poetry is highlighted through spoken word, lyrics, melody, rhythm, movement and emotion.
The artists take the audience on a journey through the moments of love, anticipation, passion, betrayal, and longing that inspired Indian poets to develop a luxurious vocabulary of metaphors to describe the emotion’s varying shades and harmonious relation with nature. These stories of love are told through the playful God of Love, who is armed with a bow and quiver of arrows. His strides are proud, his smile mischevious. These are his instruments, and love is his weapon.
Aikya – in the voice of Akka Mahadevi
Akka Mahadevi (12th century) is widely regarded as a social revolutionary in the field of female emancipation and empowerment. Her poetry at once reflects the burning desire that fueled her extraordinary passion and courage: the singular desire for Oneness (Aikya) with her beloved Chennamallikarjuna (Lord as Pure as Jasmine). This production “Aikya” seeks to reflect the intensity of Akka Mahadevi’s spiritual transformation. Her exceptionally beautiful verses (vachanas) soar the heights of philosophical imagination, yet delve into the infinite depths of the soul with fervent love and surrender.
This production premiered at the MAD and DIVINE festival in Chennai, India in 2012.
Based on an ancient Buddhist fable, Robindranath Tagore’s Chandalika centers on Prakriti, a lonely “untouchable” and social outcast. Into her dreary and dehumanized life walks Ananda, a disciple of the Buddha, who accepts water from her and tells her that all humans are created equal. For Prakriti, her encounter with Ananda is a life altering experience that signals a moment of transcendence. However, her longing for love and oneness with the Divine soon misguides itself into possessive longing and obsession for Ananda.
Seemingly a story about caste, unrequited love, magic, and human drama, Chandalika is in fact the story of each of us. It tells the story of the individual’s search for love, beauty, and freedom, all of which we contain within ourselves, yet continually seek from the outside.
Chandalika premiered in Vancouver in 2011, and has since been performed in Los Angeles, and at The Esplanade, Singapore.
Stree Katha – the three tragic heroines of the Ramayana
Mythili’s first acclaimed full length solo work explores the undercurrent of social expectations and implication of the female through three heroines of the Epic Ramayana.
Through nuanced characterization and a layered musical score, interspersed with narration, scriptwriter, choreographer, and solo dancer Mythili Prakash encourages us to re-look at the Ramayana heroines and consider gender roles and related social issues, implications, and expectations in both the context of the Ramayana and modern society today. By delving into her own cultural heritage and familiarity with the epic and her life experiences growing up in America, Mythili seeks out new meaning and reinterpretation of the stories through discovery and imagination, breaking new ground in the depiction of the three women of the epic- the tragic heroines, as she calls them. By creating new identities and characterization of their roles, their passions, and their struggles, Stree Katha connects and reflects on the dilemmas faced by present-day women in the globalizing cultural environment.
Stree Katha received the Creation to Performance Grant from the James Irvine Foundation in 2005. Following the 2006 premiere, it has toured the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Singapore, and India.
Commissioned by the Natyarangam Organization in Chennai, India for their festival “Theertha Bharatam” in 2008, Yamuna traces the rich history and symbolic significance of this sacred river of India. This full length solo work is a tribute to nature and the environment through a river, once a throbbing source of life and energy running through the subcontinent, that is today close to extinction.