Review: Mythili Prakash Is Fiery at Dancing the Gods Festival

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By SIOBHAN BURKE

 

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  • Even during the most absorbing performances, it can be hard to quiet those corners of the mind that race out ahead of themselves, wondering, “When will this be over?” But watching the Bharatanatyam dancer Mythili Prakash on Saturday at Symphony Space, I had the luxurious experience of losing track of time, of forgetting about the future. What causes this rare phenomenon? Is it the dancer’s immersion in her own present moment, so strong as to pull us in?

In the transfixing solo “Jwala: Rising Flame” — presented by the World Music Institute as part of Dancing the Gods, an annual festival of Indian classical dance — 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.

“Jwala” unfolds in four parts, beginning with “Surya: Sun,” a tribute to the Hindu sun god. A translation of Sanskrit verse in the program reads, “Radiant is He, who drives across the sky in his seven-horse chariot, dispelling darkness.” With her feet planted wide and knees bent, Ms. Prakash, wrapped in red and gold, chugged diagonally across the stage, striking the floor with her heels as her upper body assumed the proud poses of that chariot driver.

In the longest and most theatrical section, “Jwala: The Flame,” Ms. Prakash began with only her hands illuminated, one poised above the other like the wick of a candle. What started as a gentle flickering of her fingers grew into the kinetic blaze of her swirling hands. There were emotional conflagrations, too. In one passage, she appeared to be in mourning; in another, she mimed adoringly cradling a child.

An even bolder athleticism emerged in the jumps and turns of “Shakti: Energy,” named for the goddess of creativity, and the final phase, “Becoming.” The only thing not to like was that Ms. Prakash was here for just one night.

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