Mythili Prakash gives the women of the Ramayana a new voice  
- Lakshmi Iyengar, California 
e-mail: lakshmiyengar@gmail.com 
 
 
May 15, 2007 

 
'Stree Katha,' an original Bharatanatyam choreography by Mythili Prakash, explores the three most notable women of the Ramayana through a combination of serious questions and genuine curiosities while finding the relevance of these epic stories in our world today.

Mythili Prakash's three-part performance took place the weekend of May 4-6, 2007 at the City of Orange's Music Room in Southern California. The Music Room; a studio space perhaps designed for rehearsing, teaching, and training was successfully yet creatively transformed into an ideal performance space by lighting designer and stage manager Venkatesh Krishnan. There, Mythili was able to bring her vision and concept to life. In investigating the power struggle between women and society throughout history, Mythili was able to stage each of the three women of the Ramayana - Keikeyi, Shurpanaka, and Sita - in three adjacent rooms, thereby furthering her imagination to make the unique architecture of the Music Room her platform. 
 


Queen Keikeyi, sitting on the throne
....proud, regal, confident...

Shurpanaka
 

Sita - How could he have questioned 
my integrity?

Mythili began her concert in the first room with an intricately choreographed opening piece in which moments of stillness contrasted with charged moments of crisp exuberance. This opening number undoubtedly showcased her years of training, strong technique, experience and exposure as a soloist and choreographer. It was then followed by the story of Keikeyi, one of the most poignant characters in the Ramayana whose mind was polluted by the old hunchback Manthara with thoughts of fear, betrayal and concern that she would lose her status if Rama were to be crowned King. Such concern compelled her to confront King Dasharatha to have Rama banished and forced into exile. 

The second room was dedicated to Shurpanaka, the infamous demoness of the Ramayana who threatened Sita and attempted to seduce Rama and Lakshmana only to find herself ridiculed and humiliated by the brothers. An outstanding scene not only because of the story's overall charm and Mythili's intent to highlight Shurpanaka's independent strength, but because of her ability to imbibe the story to such a degree. Most Indians born and raised outside of India rarely have the innate vocabulary to portray characters like Shurpanaka with the robust and forward attitude it requires. The scene essentially displayed her mastery of the art form; which has given her the background to explore these characters with fearlessness. 

In the third room, the audience was then introduced to Sita, the quintessential wife who entered Rama's life with all the devotion and love for her husband, only to find herself questioned by society and deserted by Rama. In this final segment of her three-part presentation, Mythili really questioned what happened in this union. As Sita, Mythili gracefully relived memories and moments with Rama and her children only to find that her life was still so unfulfilling. It was in this third room, where Mythili concluded her performance of 'Stree Katha' with a finale composed by Anoor Ananthakrishna Sharma with lyrics by D Srivathsa that showcased a refreshing exploration of space and technique.

The performance was interspersed with narrations that combined colorful dialogues between a child and a storyteller with direct explanations of Mythili's exploration of these women. Though necessary in allowing Mythili's vision to be realized, the narrations were at times lengthy and slightly isolated.

D Srivathsa who also accompanied Mythili as the evening's vocalist masterfully composed the musical score for 'Stree Katha.' Her mother and guru, Viji Prakash - nattuvangum, V Vedakrishnan - mridangam, H Narasimha Murthy - flute, and Krishna Kumar violin, also joined her. 

Mythili paid a great deal of attention towards investigating the societal expectations of each of these women, never addressing Rama's position (or the male perspective) in any of these instances. The audience could clearly draw parallels between these three different women, stories and rooms with issues that can still be found in society today. It is creditable that this "work in progress" has such a strong design and focus. While pursuing her future as a soloist and lead dancer for the Shakti Dance Company, Mythili is also a tradition bearer. Being an Indian American, this was reflected in 'Stree Katha' as she effectively connected our rich Indian culture to modern day life. 
 

Lakshmi Iyengar is a lead dancer and designer for the Rangoli Dance Company. 
www.lakshmiyengar.com / www.rangoli.org