Viji Prakash honored with Soorya Lifetime Achievement Award
 – Anitha Nagendra
Photos: Kanagamathy

July 7, 2015

Viji Prakash receiving award
It was a colorful evening filled with dance and music gurus, art patrons and hundreds of dance and music students to felicitate one of the distinguished teachers of Indian classical dance in USA. Soorya Lifetime Achievement Award instituted by Soorya Performing Arts had a purse of $1000 and a plaque. This year’s awardee was Guru Viji Prakash, artistic director of Shakti Dance Company of Los Angeles.

Viji Prakash is one of the pioneer gurus who brought dance to western hemisphere in the mid 70’s along with dancers like Rathna Kumar, Hema Rajagopalan and others. She was given the plaque by veteran Guru Rathna Kumar, artistic director of Anjali Center for Performing Arts. Rathna recalled the days in USA when anything Indian was so scarce.  She mentioned that dance gurus such as Viji started to teach and perform to keep the traditions alive. The other dignitary who was present was Dr. Rajam Ramamurthy, a notable physician who holds Rita & William Head Distinguished professorship in Environmental and Developmental Neonatology, and is also the founder of Arathi School of Indian Dances in San Antonio, Texas since 1984. She remembered all great artists from La Meri to Viji, who pioneered Indian dances in the USA. Viji Prakash felt humbled by the honor extended by the dance community which included Prachi Dixit (Nupur Academy, Los Angeles, CA); Sujatha Vinjamuri (Kuchipudi Arts Academy, St. Louis); Malavika Venkatasubbaiah (Natyam Dance Academy, Calgary, Canada). Viji Prakash remembered her gurus and the musicians who worked with her. She thanked her family, especially her husband Prakash, who passed away recently.

The 7th St. Louis Indian Dance and Music Festival curated by Guru Prasanna Kasthuri took place on June 12, 13, 14 in CHS auditorium and has become a tradition of celebration of Indian performing arts. On the first day, Surabhi Bharadwaj presented an enchanting performance with neat abhinaya and crisp movements. There were some acrobatic gimmicks to please the audience, which got her lots of applause. Prasanna Kasthuri presented “Rasa Gathi” which portrayed the theory of rasa concept through the illustrations from 10th century work of Dhananjaya’s Dasaroopaka. After going through a life altering surgery, his ability to bounce back and perform a full scale performance was amazing. Abhinaya was impeccable and he managed the nritta with ease. He excelled in the navarasa through the roles of Shiva-Parvati, Ravana, Rama, cannibals, Manmatha and Rathi. Last performance of the first day was a violin concert by Dr. Poorna Prajna. He took a while to settle himself into the groove, but soon took the audience along waves of calming and peaceful music.

Prasanna Kasthuri

Surabhi Bharadwaj

The second day started with an invocation from Soorya Dance Company and students of Smitha Rajan. Rathna Kumar presented Shivoham, a collection of dances in Kuchipudi and Bharatanatyam. Expert choreography was evident in the way dancers moved across the stage. Talented male dancer Venugopal Josyula presented a light tandava piece with his inaugural Pasoonaam Pathim. His rendering of Shankara Srigiri was eye catching. Lifetime honoree Viji Prakash’s students presented well known Kannada devaranama Gajavadana beduve, with an inclusion of nritta for an interspersed swaravistara with impressive patterns. Ranjani mrudu pankaja lochani in ragamalika, a challenging piece for any dancer, was presented with grace and ease. Shakti Dance Company presented some of their best dancers to showcase the beauty of Goddess Tripurasundari. Pillangoviya Cheluva Krishna, a famous song on Lord Krishna’s playful youth, was energetic. Viji Prakash was successful in bringing out the strengths of the composition and skills of dancers well.

Guru Sushma Mohan of Los Angeles presented age old "Tiruppavai", a collection of verses written by Tamil saint poetess Andal who lived in South India during the 8th century.  Her presentation of Andal imagining herself as a cow-girl, collecting all girls at dawn during the Margazhi month (December-January) and inviting them to worship Krishna was pleasing. Additionally Samanvita Kasthuri impressed the audience as Mahavishnu. Shree Govani and Priya Patel added color through their crisp nritta and abhinaya.

Guru Prachi Dixit from Los Angeles presented ‘The Sword and the Flute – the story of Kali and Krishna’ with a charming intensity. Her dancers impressed the audience with clear movements and inspiring abhinaya. Prachi Dixit herself performed and presented a valiant Durga with the support of young Khalil Alshar, who danced effectively to present the masculine roles of the production. Khalil was at ease with all different characters of the production. In this festival, Prachi Dixit’s show stood out in her highly professional approach.

Prachi Dixit and group

Blue Chakra Band

The third day of the festival started off with the well conceived presentation of the famous Melkottai Vairamudi Utsav by Arathi School from Texas. Maya Angelou’s ‘Caged bird’ was a masterpiece presented with Bharatanatyam technique showcasing the flexibility of Indian classical dance. Dancers Rajam and Malathi Koli impressed everyone with their abhinaya of cotton picking slaves of Southern states. Adding a black dance group was appropriate to showcase the Emancipation Proclamation by Abe Lincoln.

Guru Jinoo Varghese’s attempt to recreate Bible stories broke the boundaries of traditional Hindu mythologies and showcased the strength of the art form. With quick group formations, beautiful costumes and exquisite abhinaya, she produced a marvelous piece on stories of Jesus Christ. All the dancers presented a decent level of nritta and abhinaya. Jinoo’s direction of this 24-dancer group made a mark in the dance festival.

Prasanna Kasthuri’s Dasavataram was a colorful presentation of the 10 incarnations of Lord Vishnu, with crisp choreography and appropriate formations. Enacting of Narasimha was fiery, and equally effective was the presentation of Kalki avatara.

The Blue Chakra Band is a combination of Indian and American musicians. Lead singer Seema Kasthuri presented Gam gam Ganapathi with a Maharashtrian touch followed by an interesting mutual exchange of South Indian classical raga Kharaharapriya which was played on western music scale. Guitarist Frank Heyer played wonderful interludes. Seema also presented a Bollywood song and finished with an English poem she had written herself based on the legendary Sanskrit verse “asatoma sadgamaya.” Prasanna on keyboard and Owen on drums provided good support.

Malavika Venkatasubbaiah presented a peek into Mysore style of Bharatanatyam with her production ‘Bhaavika’ about the emotions of a woman who surrenders herself to supreme God (paramathma) through total devotion. Malavika portrayed the stories of Parvathi seeking God Shiva; Gopis seeking Lord Krishna; and Radha rejecting unruly Krishna with heavy heart. Malavika’s refined abhinaya was excellent.

The festival ended with folk dances by Neelima Bhavsar and friends, who presented Raas Garbha. Mahashakti, a panoramic representation of all dances of India by Soorya Performing Arts was presented with joy. This festival was supported by Missouri Arts Council, a state agency; Regional Arts Commission – a St. Louis based art supporting agency and US Wide Mortgages.