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Akshay Prakash | Shivoham | Photo: Sharad Ravall

'Shivoham' (Akshay Prakash) – an appreciation.

Shivoham, Bhavan Centre, London, 16 July 2017 – an appreciation, by Lakshmii Senathirajah.

      Bharatanatyam dancer Akshay Prakash – brought to a wider audience as a category finalist on BBC Young Dancer 2017 – presented Shivoham, an evening-length solo exploration of Lord Shiva.

A lively and reverential musical piece, 'Mahaganapathim', set the invocatory tone. Akshay entered the stage with 'Nhandi chol', a piece that vividly showcased Shiva drinking the dark and deadly poison which emanated from Mount Mandara; allowing the Devas and Asuras (competing mythological beings) to acquire sweet nectar. Akshay’s movements to exhibit the churning of the mountain were large in all aspects – using his expressions, elongated arms and legs to show the exhilaration, effort and pain all at once. He used his stage positioning to demonstrate specific characters, with the Devas on one side and Asuras on the other.

'Panchabhootam' was the core piece of the evening. Through his facial expression, hand gestures and projections of the circuit of temples, Akshay demonstrated the five elements being described in this piece (space, wind, fire, water, earth), five stories of Lord Shiva and five associated temples. He created shapes and used abhinaya to convey waves of water and dancing flames.

The story of Saint Nandanar, born to the lowest caste and ploughing his landlord’s fields to get by, brought the spiritual story of Nandanar’s love for Lord Shiva to life. In particular, Akshay’s portrayal of the landlord’s disgust each time Nandanar makes the request to visit Chidambaram Temple was so vivid, it simultaneously made me pity Nandanar whilst feeling something I can only describe as close to hatred towards the landlord. His ability continuously to shift character from the arrogant landlord to the pleading Nandanar was graceful, rapidly amending his expression, dance and body language accordingly. Furthermore, M Balachandar’s performance on the mridangam (percussion instrument) whilst Nandanar ploughs the fields and displays his shock to the landlords refusals, followed Akshay’s feet and eyes to perfection, deepening the emotions felt by the audience.

During the second half, performed in a royal blue costume, the 'thillana' choreography was a beautiful contrast between steps, off-beat spins and momentary stillness. A flick of his finger corresponded completely with what happened with his eyes, neck, stomach and toe. His finishes were sharp and steady despite the speed in which he moved; all to finish with a well-earned standing ovation.

Akshay's performance was supported by six skilled and experienced musicians, including his father and brother, Prakash Yadagudde and Avinash Prakash, (nattuvangam (cymbals) and konnakal (spoken syllables)), O.S. Arun (vocalist). M Balachandar played (mridangam), with K T Sivaganesh (violin) and Vivek (flute).

The evening moved not away but towards tradition, allowing Akshay's accurate technique and presentation of the stories to stir the audience. Breathing new life into a centuries-old form, 'Shivoham' transfixed the audience by evoking spirituality and emotion that was manifested through rhythm, shape and precision.