FOUNDER, ARTISTIC DIRECTOR & CHOREOGRAPHER
Shakti School of Bharata Natyam
Shakti Dance Company
Viji Prakash is a pioneer in the teaching, performance and presentation of Bharata Natyam in the USA since 1977. A virtuoso in the classical dance form, when Viji moved to Los Angeles in 1976, she brought with her intense, disciplined, meticulous training that was imparted to her by the grand masters of the Thanjavur tradition of Bharata Natyam, her gurus Guru Kalyanasundaram and late Guru Mahalingam Pillai, of the Sri Raja Rajeshwari Bharata Natya Kala Mandir, Bombay.
With that inspiration, Viji established the Shakti School of Bharata Natyam in Los Angeles in 1977 with five centers in Southern California, which continue to thrive today. In addition to regular training, students are also taught by renowned gurus and teachers through the immersive summer dance camps that has become a Shakti signature since 1997.
The students of the School who have trained with Viji, have performed Arangetrams and continue to dance, with opportunities to be an active part of the local and international cultural landscape through the many dance productions, curated festivals, international tours and artistic collaborations, that Viji has created through Shakti. Several have distinguished themselves as world renown performers and teachers.
Viji is a recipient of several awards, including the acclaimed Best Guru award from the Music Academy, Chennai, India, the Soorya LifeTime Achievement Award, Brody Choreographic Fellowship, California Arts Council Award and the Excellence in the Arts Award – Torrance Cultural Arts Commission.
Viji has studied Mohini Attam and Kathakali with the renowned dance Guru Padmabhushan Kanak Rele. Viji also served as an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Bharata Natyam at UCLA – Department of Dance from 1999 to 2015.
“The thing I loved most about my mom’s dancing
was her ability to inhabit a character. I would sit through her solo- 5 hour (I’m not joking) Ramayana dance drama, taking in all the characters from Ravana to Shabari, to Sita, Kaikeyi, Hanuman, journeying through the fascinating and emotional journey of the Ramayana through her. Dozens of scenes clearly etched in my mind and heart even three decades later. This moment of Dasharatha’s parting with his beloved Rama (who is banished to the forest for 14 years), would give me the weepies every time and still does!
Working on She’s Auspicious piece has made me reflect a lot on ideals of “beauty” and “perfection.” And as a woman and a dancer – those things are on the mind a lot, a driving force, an impossible goal. (I write about it in a new blogpost about “refinement” that will be up soon.)
And what I’ve come to realize and value, particularly recently, is that my mom’s focus, as a teacher and a dancer – was always on energy, passion, speed (!!!) exertion, GRIT, and involvement. Rarely was considered the idea of “beauty” or even “perfection” while dancing. In fact, in the effort to just stay alive in her grueling and challenging choreographies, there was hardly a moment to think about how you looked while dancing.
My mom was insanely gorgeous but it was never her “beauty” that struck me when I saw her dance. She’d push herself to her limits in a way that was so un-self aware, and if there is one word that comes to mind when I think of it, it was “honesty.”
In a time where beauty feels performed, center-staged, curated, detailed, deliberate, I enjoy the un-self aware quality of my mom’s dance. In some moments I remember I would feel embarrassed because I felt she had taken things too far, and yet I loved that she could take me on intense journeys through her ability to lose herself.
As I work on She’s Auspicious and question my own notions of aesthetic and “boundary,” I can’t help but feel like she may have been onto something . . .”
- Best Guru Award
- Soorya Life Time Achievement Award
- UCLA/Indonesia Arts Education Residency Fellowship
- Brody Choreographic Fellowship
- California Arts Council & Torrance Cultural Arts Commission
Viji Prakash is the recipient of the acclaimed “Best Guru” award from the Music Academy, Chennai, India
Viji Prakash received the “Soorya Life Time Achievement Award” for her contribution towards teaching and choreographic work.
Recognizing her appreciation of diverse cultures, Viji Prakash received a fellowship through the UCLA/Indonesia Arts Education Residency Fellowship Program of the UCLA Center for Intercultural Performance and supported by the U.S. Department Of State, Bureau Of Educational & Cultural Affairs.
Viji Prakash is a two time recipient of the Brody Choreographic Fellowship.
Viji Prakash is the recipient of both a California Arts Council award and an “Excellence in the Arts Award” from the Torrance Cultural Arts Commission.