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Neena Prasad: Mohiniyattam opens more possibilities as you get closer to it
- Lalitha Venkat

December 4, 2008

Neena Prasad has a brilliant academic background, and continues her research pursuits along with her performances and teaching responsibilities. She pursued a rigourous regimen of dance education, achieving proficiency in Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi, Mohiniyattam and Kathakali. After her MA in English Literature, she was awarded PhD from Rabindra Bharati University, Calcutta, for her thesis on "The concepts of Lasya and Tandava in the classical dances of South India - A detailed Study". She was also awarded a post doctoral Research Fellowship from the AHRB Research Centre for Cross Cultural Music and Dance Performance, University of Surrey. Neena was a disciple of leading gurus: Mohiniyattam - Kalamandalam Sugandhi - 8years, Kalamandalam Kshemavathy - 3years, Bharatanatyam - Adyar K. Lakshman - 11years, Kuchipudi - Vempatti China Satyam - 12years, Kathakali - Vembayam Appukuttan Pillai - 10years.

Bharatanjali was set up in 1995, and continues to attract discerning students. Sougandhika begun in Chennai in 2003 is already carving a niche for itself in the demanding artistic horizon of Chennai.

You are trained in the 4 classical styles of Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi, Kathakali and Mohiniyattam. Why have you singled out Mohiniyattam among the 4 forms?
First, I hail from the land of its origin. The sensuality, the idiom, the psyche, the content, the core...each and everything concerned with this form of art was identified better by me than any other form in which I was trained. Further, I wanted to discover the unexplored beauty of this languid form. There was space for me to learn, to create, to experiment. And I understood that my experiences were not only valuable to me as a dancer but also to Mohiniyattam as well, as it established the hidden possibility and magnitudes of this art discipline.

How did it feel when you became the first South Indian to receive a PhD in dance from Rabindra Bharati University?

I am honored to be the first to hold this academic degree from the university which is named after Rabindranath Tagore, the cultural savant and patron of arts. I realize that it is a good fortune it happened to me.

Do you think performing arts should be made part of school curriculum?
Definitely. It helps the coming generation to have an understanding of the performing traditions of India, the rich mosaic of dance forms. It may draw the new generation closer thereby creating more rasikas and practitioners.

Through your group works, you aim to present themes that are contemporary and relevant, using the classical idiom. Does Mohiniyattam lend itself easily to such interpretations?
As we do not have much creative pieces to refer; and as the number of senior dancers who have experimented with contemporary issues are also limited, there are not too many such productions. Hence, the technical side though very vast and elaborate, has to be handled sensibly. There are many bottlenecks the dancer may face at first. Though it is not easy, it is challenging and interesting. The art and discipline of Mohiniyattam opens more possibilities in front of you as you get closer to it!

Your topic is 'Sitaayana' in Mohiniyattam for the Natya Kala Conference. From what angle do you see Sita's story?
In Sitaayana, the whole story of Ramayana happens in the angle of Sita. It is Sita's story in retrospective. Her sincere re-analysation of the incidents, follies committed by her as a woman, immature responses in certain situations, maturity she gained in life later... as a single mother.....makes the production a journey, as the name Sitaayana suggests, through this epic in a woman's perspective.

Your comment on the Chennai December season.
The unending extravaganza of music and dance which happens every year...! It always gives a great confidence and rejuvenation to a beginner and a senior artist as well. If you miss your participation as a regular performer of the season or as a regular connoisseur of these festivals, the whole year it makes you think..... You Missed It!


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