FOUNDER & ARTISTIC DIRECTOR

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, Viji Prakash is an internationally acclaimed dancer, choreographer, and teacher of Bharata Natyam. When Viji moved to Los Angeles, she brought with her intense, disciplined, meticulous training that was imparted to her from age 4, 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. The Pillai brothers were recipients of the prestigious E. Krishna Iyer Medal for the development of Bharata Natyam in India. Krishna Iyer was a lawyer who in the 1930’s fought against the ban imposed in temples on dancers. The Pillai brothers admired such fighters for the revival of the dance and inspired Viji Prakash molding her commitment to dance. Along with her Guru and Musical ensemble, she toured often in the United States, Canada, the UK, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Japan, sharing the dance tradition with diverse world audiences. She also trained in major classical dance forms – Mohini Attam and Kathakali with Guru Dr. Kanak Rele- Nalanda Maha Vidyalaya.

In Los Angeles, Viji founded a dance school and company, choreographed, composed and presented 100 compelling ballets, curated festivals, collaborated with international artists and made a tremendous contribution to the cultural life of the City of Los Angeles. Over her career in the United States Viji has trained and mentored over 2,000 students of dance and conducted over 300 solo debut performances (Arangetram).

Viji is a recipient of several awards, including the acclaimed “Best Guru” award from the Music Academy, Chennai, India as well as the “Soorya LifeTime Achievement Award” for her contribution towards teaching and choreographic work. Recognizing her appreciation of diverse cultures  she 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 is a two time recipient of the Brody Choreographic fellowship, the California Arts Council award and the Excellence in the Arts Award – Torrance Cultural Arts Commission, Viji also served as an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Bharata Natyam at the Department of World Arts & Culture/Dance, UCLA for over a decade.

“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
www.mythiliprakash.com

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