Creators and Directors: Ranee Ramaswamy, Aparna Ramaswamy

Choreographic Associate: Ashwini Ramaswamy

Scenic and Light Design: Willy Cessa

Producer: Ragamala Dance Company

Length: 65 minutes, no intermission

Touring Company: 11 dancers, 2 tech, 1 staff   

From the Artistic Directors:

In Fires of Varanasi, we evoke and embody the millions of pilgrims whose feet rewrite the city’s geography year after year. The dancers become lingering echoes of ritual and ceremony, bridging the space between internal and external, the secular world and a sacred state of mind.

This project has grown from our experience of the death of our father/grandfather away from his homeland. A devout Hindu, he yearned for his ashes to be scattered in the Ganges River in the sacred city of Varanasi, India, just as our ancestors before him.  

For millennia, Varanasi—the earth’s oldest continuously inhabited city—has symbolized the crossing place between this world and the ‘far shore.’ Cremation fires burn night and day, and one is surrounded by rituals of death, both beautiful and apocalyptic.  

Fires of Varanasi is a large-scale dance work in which we expand upon the birth-death-rebirth continuum in Hindu thought to examine immigrant experiences of life and death in the diaspora. We see the transformation of the soul after cremation as a powerful symbol for the Indian ethos of resilience, and the tenacity of people and cultures across time. By bringing human experiences of migration—physical, cultural, emotional—to the stage, we underscore the need for cultural sustenance across generations. We honor the legacy of immigrants who inscribe our past lives into the history of our new homes.

An original score will layer South Indian Carnatic compositions—using lyrics from Indian classical and modern poetry—with Hindu Vedic chants and Buddhist mantras.

We will work in close collaboration with French scenic and light designer Willy Cessa to create an immersive visual environment that evokes the heightened state of the city where nature and ritual permeate night and day.

Contact: Jake Anderson, Managing Director: 517.290.0278 (c), 612.824.1968 (o),

Lead commissioner: The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Co-commissioned by the Joan W. and Irving B. Harris Theater for Music and Dance

Co-commissioned by and developed in part at The Hopkins Center for the Arts at Dartmouth College and the Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts, Cal State Northridge

With additional commissioning support from: Jay and Susie Gogue Performing Arts Center at Auburn University; Meany Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Washington; and the American Dance Festival

This project was created in part through Ranee and Aparna Ramaswamy's 2018 Guggenheim Fellowship and a residency at the Rockefeller Foundation's Bellagio Center in Italy, and made possible in part by the New England Foundation for the Arts’ National Dance Project, with lead funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and New Music USA. To follow the project as it unfolds, visit our project page: