Viji Prakash

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. Viji has studied Mohini Attam and Kathakali dance forms with the renowned dance Guru Padmabhushan Kanak Rele. Prakash has performed and toured extensively in the USA, Europe and Asia.

With that inspiration, Viji established the Shakti School of Bharata Natyam and its performance wing, Shakti Dance Company in Los Angeles in 1977. She has trained over 2,000 students at the Shakti School located at four centers in Southern California. Over 300 students have performed solo dance debuts (Arangetram) and have toured India and the USA as members of the Shakti Dance Company, winning international awards and recognition. Today, the School is an important artistic center in Los Angeles, endeavoring to study Bharata Natyam and also provide a space that nurtures the creative energies of young artists. 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 Shakti Dance Company has earned great acclaim and performed at prestigious venues and festivals including the World Festival of Sacred Music-LA, Hollywood Bowl- Summer Sounds Concerts, Annual LA County Holiday Celebration-Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Music Center, LA. Also, in a program by the Foundation for World Arts and with support from the National Endowment for the Arts and Department of Cultural Affairs City of Los Angeles, the Shakti Dance Company was presented as one of the best of LA’s cultural offerings at the Guadalajara International Festival.

A distinguished figure in the world of dance, Prakash has been honored with 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 was also awarded the UCLA/Indonesia Arts Education Residency Fellowship by UCLA’s Center for Intercultural Performance to conduct Bharata Natyam workshops and stage performances for over 1,000 youth in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. The fellowship program was supported by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau Of Educational & Cultural Affairs. Viji also served as an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Bharata Natyam at UCLA – Department of Dance 1999-2015.

“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 . . .”

Mythili Prakash

Viji Prakash
Viji Prakash

Achievement Awards

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.

Tracing the heritage

Bharata Natyam Tradition of Thanjavur

Natyacharya Guru KALYANASUNDRAM. Sri Rajarajeshwari Bharatha Natya Kala Mandir, Mumbai – INTERNATIONAL DANCE DAY CELEBRATIONS April-May 2020 – South Zone Cultural Centre