Written in Water premieres at Opening Nights at Florida State University

The premiere performances of Written in Water received two consecutive standing ovations at Opening Nights Performing Arts at Florida State University in Tallahassee. A production four years in the making, Written in Water combines music, dance, and large-scale projections to convey the metaphysical and philosophical consequences within the ancient Indian game of Snakes and Ladders and the 12th-century Sufi text The Conference of the Birds.

"It was an honor for us to be an integral part in the creation of 'Written in Water' as well as presenting the world-premiere," said Christopher Heacox, Director of Opening Nights Performing Arts and a commissioner of the work.  "Its amazing visuals, captivating choreography, and original score with live music left audiences eager to experience it agai

FSU College of Fine Arts News
October 13, 2016

Since its inception in 1921, Opening Nights Performing Arts has become a venue for performing artists to dazzle audiences at Florida State University. Thanks to Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography (MANCC), the Tallahassee community was treated to a performance that did just that.

It was a packed house for the world premiere of Written in Water on October 5th, 2016 with an encore performance the following evening on October 6th, 2016. Audiences were treated to an experience that was equal parts as interesting as it was beautiful. The dancers appeared to transition seamlessly between each musical nuance giving it the appearance of one never ending spectacle. Dressed in elegant and eye catching attire, each stood apart from the nearly complete darkness surrounding the stage along with the projections of snakes and incredible artwork. Overall, this performance was a magical experience for all who attended.



Aparna Ramaswamy Receives Doris Duke Artist Award

Twenty-one Performing Artists Receive $275,000 Each as Recipients of Doris Duke Artist Awards, A Landmark Program That Has Supported 101 Artists With a Total of $27.7 Million Since 2012
May 3, 2016
Press Release
Aparna's Artist Profile


NEW YORK, NY — The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (DDCF) announced today the recipients of the fifth annual Doris Duke Artist Awards. Appointed in recognition of their creative vitality and ongoing contributions to the fields of dance, jazz and theater, awardees will each receive $275,000 in flexible, multi-year funding as well as financial and legal counseling, professional development activities and peer-to-peer learning opportunities provided by Creative Capital, DDCF’s primary partner in the awards.

With the 2016 class, DDCF will have awarded approximately $27.7 million to 101 noteworthy artists through the Doris Duke Artist Awards.

This year’s Doris Duke Artists are:

  • Kyle Abraham (Dance)
  • Sharon Bridgforth (Theater)
  • Dave Douglas (Jazz)
  • Faye Driscoll (Dance)
  • Janie Geiser (Theater)
  • Miguel Gutierrez (Dance)
  • Fred Hersch (Jazz)
  • Wayne Horvitz (Jazz)
  • Taylor Mac (Theater)
  • Dianne McIntyre (Dance)
  • Jason Moran (Jazz)
  • Mark Morris (Dance)
  • Lynn Nottage (Theater)
  • Thaddeus Phillips (Theater)
  • Will Power (Theater)
  • Aparna Ramaswamy (Dance)
  • Matana Roberts (Jazz)
  • Jen Shyu (Jazz)
  • Wadada Leo Smith (Jazz)
  • Morgan Thorson (Dance)
  • Henry Threadgill (Jazz)

Read more

Ranee, Aparna, and Ashwini Ramaswamy on the cover of Dance Teacher Magazine

An Indian Dance Matriarchy in Minneapolis

Rachel Rizzuto, Dance Teacher Magazine
February 1, 2016
Original article

It’s a Sunday morning at the Gibney Dance Center in New York City, where Ranee Ramaswamy and her daughters Aparna and Ashwini are preparing for a photo shoot. Chattering and interrupting each other, they flit about as they text, drink coffee and appraise one another’s appearance. Ranee proudly shows photos of her grandsons, “Aparna’s boys. Twins. Such big eyes!” This could be a friendly group of women, anywhere. But once in front of the camera, the members of Ragamala Dance Company instantly snap into focus—they are consummate performers who take the spotlight with grace and authority.

Ranee and her older daughter Aparna founded the Minneapolis-based Ragamala in 1992 as co-artistic directors, and it’s that intergenerational factor that gives the company its unique dynamic. The women perform in the classical South Indian dance form, bharata natyam, that Ranee studied as a child growing up in India. But theirs is not a story about a mother passing on a cultural tradition to her daughters. In fact, it was Aparna who paved the way for her mother to have the kind of career Ranee never dreamed possible.

A Return to Her Roots

Despite her upbringing, Ranee assumed dance would have no place in her new life in the U.S. Back in South India, her parents had denied her the traditional recital at the end of her bharata natyam training. “At 17, I was engaged to be married—an arranged marriage,” she says. “They said, ‘All that money we can spend on dowry.’” But once she and her husband arrived in Minnesota in 1981 (she was 26), she was asked to perform at a community ballet function. She cobbled together what steps she could remember and played a tape of Indian music. “I found that I still had a big love for the artform.”   

After the concert, several families asked if she could teach their children. “Aparna was a young child,” says Ranee. “I wasn’t teaching her. Because these people were paying me, I thought, ‘I owe it to them, not my daughter.’ Then one day I looked—she knew everything I was teaching the other children!”

Aparna’s natural talent was confirmed when famed bharata natyam dancer and teacher Alarmél Valli (“She’s like the Baryshnikov of India,” says Ranee) performed in Minneapolis, and both mother and daughter took her advanced master class.

“Nobody could do anything,” says Ranee. “But Aparna was able to learn everything Valli taught. At the end, Valli said, ‘Aparna’s like a computer.’” When she suggested that Ranee bring Aparna to India for further instruction, Ranee didn’t hesitate. “Two months later, Aparna and I were already landed in India,” she says. “I said, ‘Can I also learn? I’ll work so hard.’ So I started from step A with Aparna—we became colleagues.” That partnership eventually grew into Ragamala, founded when Aparna was only 17.

An American Influence

Ranee’s second daughter, Ashwini, followed a strikingly different path. Twelve when her sister and mother formed Ragamala, Ashwini danced in many of the company’s productions through college but never approached it with the drive of her mother and sister. “I did dance as one activity among many,” she says. “I’m very much an American kid.” But after working after college as a publicist for Penguin Books, she realized something was missing. “There was something not fulfilling that I couldn’t put my finger on,” she says. “So in 2007 I returned home. Every year, I get more pulled in.”

A talented soloist in her own right (“Now I’m meticulous; I’m practicing hours a day”), Ashwini also handles the company’s publicity. Though she admits she sometimes regrets not focusing on bharata natyam as a child, she thinks developing an interest later in life has made her a better performer today. “All those experiences have made my dancing what it is,” she explains. “What we’re always taught is to bring our personalities onstage, using the choreography, because bharata natyam is an externalization of internal emotion.”

Blending Cultures

When the Ramaswamy women describe their artform, the rigor and training sound similar to ballet, despite the obvious visual differences. Though bharata natyam precedes ballet by about 2,000 years—it’s taken from the four scriptures that exist in the Hindu religious tradition—it shares with ballet a dual focus on rhythm and expression. “From your eyebrows to your toes, every part of the body integrates the rhythm,” says Ranee. “It’s very complex.” But one difference is an element of personal interpretation. “When a dancer has fully absorbed the technique, the musicality, the spirituality, she is then able to internalize the idiom and make spontaneous decisions onstage—especially with live music,” says Ashwini. “If you practice, practice, practice with your musicians, you have the freedom to use different steps or rhythmic choices or explore different nuances of expression. It happens in the moment, but only after years of practice and confidence.”

And because they live in America, the Ramaswamys bring a new dimension to the traditional bharata natyam form. For instance, Ranee and Aparna have taken what is primarily a solo form of dance and expanded it for a group, often including other Western influences, like jazz music and improvisation“If the link is perfect—if there is a connection between these things—we try to bring it all together in a conversation,” she says. “We keep bharata natyam very pure. But it has to change in ways, because it’s meeting with other music and cultures.”

The Next Generation

Though their particular way of interacting with one another—interrupting, offering unsolicited opinions—might suggest otherwise, all three women insist that there’s rarely discord among them. Ranee credits this to the time she and Aparna studied together in India with Valli. “Even though I am the mother, we became students at the same time,” she says. “I have never dismissed her as young, and she has never dismissed me as old.” Though Aparna agrees with her mother about their rapport, she admits the dynamic can be challenging. “The line between family and work has always been blurred for me, because my mom and I started this journey when I was very young,” she says. “Sometimes it can feel overwhelming,” adds Ashwini. “But it’s also extremely satisfying and emotionally enriching to work together.”

One of Ranee’s favorite things to say is that she gets to take her kids with her to work every day. “Continuing this lineage through my children is tremendously meaningful to me,” she says. Aparna, on the other hand, says that because her children are boys (6-year-old twins), she doesn’t have the same need to pass the bharata natyam torch to them. “I was so happy that they weren’t girls,” she says, “who would have to carry on the tradition. I feel like I’m experiencing a real childhood through my kids.”

All three women do pass on the bharata natyam tradition via their school, where they teach class to 40 dancers, ages 7 through adult. Having studied under and with one another for so many years, none of them takes this responsibility lightly. “In India, the teacher is one of the most important people in your life,” explains Ranee. “It’s mother, father, teacher, god. Mother gives you birth; father educates you; teacher shows you the path to knowledge. That’s the highest.” 

Ashwini Ramaswamy featured in Minneapolis Star Tribune's Top Dance of 2015

Top dance of 2015: Dazzling moments here, there and everywhere

Sheila Regan, Star Tribune
December 20, 2015
Original Article

This year proved again how lucky the Twin Cities is to have such a robust dance scene. With venues that bring in high-caliber troupes from all over the world; homegrown companies that deliver high-quality work season after season; a booming infrastructure that nurtures up-and-coming choreographers, and audiences and funders that support the ecosystem, our dance scene dazzled almost every weekend of 2015. Here are some of the most magical moments:

Out-of-towners: We lucked out this year, with the likes of Camille Brown and Lula Washington bringing their work to the Twin Cities, and New York-based Joanna Kotze working with Zenon and James Sewell Ballet to stage exciting works. The highlight was Maureen Fleming, whose elastic talents in the astonishing “B. Madonna” at the O’Shaughnessy made for a transcendent night.

Local choreographers: They more than held their own, with TU Dance, Sewell, Minnesota Dance Theatre, Zenon, Arena Dances, Ananya Dance Theatre and Stuart Pimsler among the companies that reliably brought a mix of new works and old favorites.

Recognition: Many local artists won acclaim outside the Twin Cities. Minneapolis choreographer Chris ­Schlichting, whose intricate and breathtaking “Stripe Tease” started the year off right at Walker Art Center, went on to receive kudos from the New York Times and Washington Post. Ashwini Ramaswamy of Ragamala Dance also received a New York Times rave, and the company made the Chicago Tribune’s year-end Top 10. TU Dance artistic directors Toni Pierce-Sands and Uri Sands of TU Dance were named USA Fellows, winning $50,000, and Minnesota companies bopped around the world, from southern France (Zenon) to Ethiopia (Ananya).

Fresh spaces: There was plenty of dance outside the theaters, too. Morgan Thorson set her five-hour endurance piece “Still Life” inside the Weisman Art Museum’s galleries, while BodyCartography Project traveled around the Twin Cities with its “closer” project, bringing individualized dances to audience members before mounting a full-length work at Red Eye. Ragamala hosted a cultural festival in the Hindu tradition called Navarathri, where dance was just part of the celebration, and Hennepin Theatre Trust brought in guest curators April Sellers and Laurie Van Wieren to launch a dance series in indoor public spaces in downtown Minneapolis.

In retrospect: Minnesota Dance Theatre staged a moving tribute to founder Loyce Houlton; Joanie Smith nodded to early feminism with her piece “Tableau Vivant,” and Karla Grotting’s “Lost Voices in Jazz,” presented with Eclectic Edge Ensemble, honored the choreographers and dancers lost to the AIDS crisis. Mathew Janczewski, from Arena, also took reflected on past works for the company’s 20th anniversary.

New talents: Emerging choreographers such as Pramila Vasudevan and Kaleena Miller carved out their own spaces, while Divya Maiya owned the Minnesota Fringe Festival for the second year in a row with her exuberant, wonderful Bollywood dance troupe.

Song of the Jasmine helps Cleveland Museum of Art win award for 'Adventurous Programming'

Performing Arts Series at Cleveland Museum of Art wins award for 'Adventurous Programming'

Zachary Lewis, Cleveland Plain Dealer
December 15, 2015
Original Article

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Christmas has come a few days early for the Performing Arts Series at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

On Monday, the series announced its receipt of a 2016 CMA/ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming, an honor bestowed annually by Chamber Music America and the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.

The award recognizes outstanding commitment to the music of the last 25 years, on the part of both performers and presenters, as well as the ability of winners to attract audiences.

"You never expect this sort of thing, but I've always had a keen eye on it," said Tom Welsh, director of the Performing Arts Series. "It shows great respect [for the museum] in the field nationally, and we take that as an honor."

The museum won in the mixed repertory division of the "Large Presenters" category, a group that includes other art museums as well as universities and independent performing arts centers. The category also includes a jazz division.

Specifically, Welsh said, the award acknowledges six performances or series of events on the museum's 2014-15 season: the Calder Quartet, the Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble, Ragamala Dance Company and Rudresh Mahanthappa, the Mivos Quartet, Roomful of Teeth, and Wu Man.

Welsh also said the award entails a small honorarium and a presentation at Chamber Music America's national conference Jan. 10 in New York.

As it happens, this is not the first time the museum has received a CMA/ASCAP Award. The museum also won in 2005, during the tenures of longtime former curator of music Karel Paukert and former assistant curator Paul Cox.

"There's a long precedent here," Welsh said, "and it's a tip of the hat to the kind of programming we do."

Chicago Tribune Names 'Song of the Jasmine' a Top 10 Dance Event of 2015

Dance Top 10 for 2015: Women had an outsized role on this year's list

Laura Molzahn, Chicago Tribune
December 10, 2015
Original Article

With shows by Wendy Whelan in January, Carrie Hanson in March, Onye Ozuzu in August, Twyla Tharp in November, and the female choreographers of Hubbard Street's winter program this weekend — well, 2015 has proved the year of the woman. That shouldn't be remarkable, because women predominate in dance, but it is. You'll find an unusually high number of additional picks by women in my chronological list below of the top 10 dance works of the last year — along with some fine representatives of the other sex.

"Song of the Jasmine," Ragamala Dance, April at the Museum of Contemporary Art: Minneapolis-based mother-daughter team Ranee and Aparna Ramaswamy, collaborating with innovative composer-saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, commingled jazz, carnatic music and bharata natyam dance in this synergistic, utterly contemporary evening-length piece. As a performer, Ramaswamy elicited the essence of the feminine; moving precisely, delicately, she used her hands and face so wholeheartedly you could smell heavenly jasmine yourself.

"A Streetcar Named Desire," Scottish Ballet, May at the Harris Theater: In a brilliantly structured reimagining of the Tennessee Williams classic, choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, aided by theater and film director Nancy Meckler, wasted not a moment or a step as she created empathy with Blanche (no easy task) and with the story's gay lovers (unseen in the play). In this lush, emotional work — Lopez Ochoa's first full-length narrative ballet — the sparing use of point work gave it all the more impact. The Scottish Ballet dancers, making their Chicago debut, were wonderful.

"Clover," The Cambrians, June at the Preston Bradley Center: In the decayed grandeur of a 1926 Masonic hall, Chicago artists Benjamin Holliday Wardell, Michel Rodriguez Cintra and Melinda Jean Myers presented the charismatic final version of their jointly created and performed "Clover." In a departure from earlier "Nexus Project" works, this piece had more structure, more dancing, and fewer spoken texts and jokes. The result was a stronger connection between the dancers and with the audience — and a real emotional wallop.

"Don Quixote," Royal Ballet, June at the Auditorium Theatre: Carlos Acosta's boisterous 2013 staging proved marvelously comic, carrying its three hours with ease and concluding with a sunny, beneficent vision of the good and beautiful. The Royal Ballet, which hadn't performed here in 37 years, met all expectations, and on opening night Acosta as goodhearted, rowdy Basilio and Marianela Nunez as his eager lover were at once convincing flesh-and-blood people and superhuman dancers. Thankfully, this 19th-century ballet lived and breathed.

"Supreme Love," Tapman Productions and M.A.D.D. Rhythms, September at the Athenaeum Theatre: This 50th-anniversary tribute to John Coltrane's album "A Love Supreme" featured live music by the Rajiv Halim Quartet and some stirring, nuanced tap dancing. One of the great joys of the true-blue American forms of jazz and tap is what they reveal of the individual artist, revelations fostered here by the intimate space and well-balanced sound. Though the slim narrative was a bit clumsy, its heart was in the right place.

"Bloodlines," Stephen Petronio Company, October at the Dance Center of Columbia College: A program of three works, including Merce Cunningham's "RainForest" and Trisha Brown's "Glacial Decoy," provided the absolute best kind of education — that is, the fun kind. Though Petronio's troupe struggled a bit with the Cunningham dance, it was good to see the leap from this pathfinder's work to that of Brown and her successor, Petronio. His "Non Locomotor," however, proved the most delicious of the bunch. Generous use of the spine and an experimental hip-hop score by Clams Casino suggested an intelligent night at the club.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, October at the Harris Theater: It was a feat (and a treat) to present three William Forsythe works on one bill, only one of which, "Quintett," was already under the company's belt. The other two required vastly different skill sets: While the 14 dancers of "One Flat Thing, reproduced" had to be acrobats, basically, to negotiate a grid of 20 large steel tables, the four dancers of "N.N.N.N." needed to be quiet, to listen, to respond sensitively, all while maintaining a sense of humor. As wonderful as Gustavo Ramirez Sansano's new "I am Mister B" was in March, the Forsythe program was the year's most astonishing feat.

"Jewel Tones: Spectrum," October at Links Hall: You didn't have to be a Buddhist to love the concluding performance of Jessica Marasa's improvised "Jewel Tones" series, mining the Buddha's teachings on light. The eighth and final show, "Spectrum," brought together three of Chicago's top experimental jazz musicians — Mike Reed, Jason Roebke and James Falzone — with four marvelous dancers: elegant mischief-maker Ayako Kato, sly Adriana Durant, powerful Onye Ozuzu and joyous Marasa. Getting seven distinctive improvisers to come to a conclusion was like herding cats, with no one to do the herding, but the end proved thrilling, satisfying.

Jessica Lang Dance, November at the Harris Theater: This exquisite company made its Chicago debut with a program distinguished by Lang's strong sense of design, extending to both the look of the stage and the crisp lines of her choreography. Her intellectual curiosity — evident in "Tesseracts of Time," a collaboration with architect Steven Holl, and in the moving "Thousand Yard Stare," for which she did extensive research on veterans — added depth and interest to a smart, unique evening.

"The Nutcracker," Joffrey Ballet, December at the Auditorium Theatre: Earlier in the year the Joffrey gained some terrific new repertoire with the company premieres of Stanton Welch's "Maninyas" and Justin Peck's "In Creases" as well as a world premiere by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, "Mammatus." But the final run of Robert Joffrey's "Nutcracker," concluding Dec. 27, made me fall in love, finally, with what has become, over 20 years, Chicago's sweetheart. Maybe the set and costumes are disintegrating, but we can't tell. And maybe its air of self-indulgence is a little cloying. It's also sweet. And year after year, no matter the cast, the dancing is top-notch.

Ragamala receives Building Demand for the Arts Exploration grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation

November 23, 2015


Eighteen Collaborations Nationwide Receive Support to Explore Strategies That Will Reach New Audiences and Increase Demand for Jazz, Dance and Theatre

NEW YORK, NY, November 17, 2015 —The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (DDCF) today announced the 18 teams of performing artists and arts organizations selected to receive a total of $600,000 in Exploration grants through the foundation’s Building Demand for the Arts program. This group of grantees is the third and final cohort to receive Exploration funding through the program, which launched in 2013 and supports inventive arts collaborations aiming to understand and connect more deeply with a particular audience through the fields of jazz, dance and/or theatre. This year’s grantees represent a wide geographic span and interest in reaching diverse target audiences such as inner-city young adults, specific ethnic groups and the national deaf community.

“We are delighted to support this last cohort of artists and organizations as they imagine new ways to build demand for the arts,” said Ben Cameron, program director for the Arts at DDCF. “Broadening our thinking about who our audiences are and how we connect with them is enormously challenging. We look forward to the bold ideas these teams generate and the impact they will make on their respective fields.”

The Building Demand for the Arts program offers two types of grants: Exploration grants, which support investigative conversations between artists and organizations about ways to build demand for the performing arts, and Implementation grants, which support the implementation of previously crafted plans to build arts demand. The next Implementation grants funding specific projects of artist-organization partnerships will be announced in early 2016.

Ragamala Dance Company receives Doris Duke Charitable Foundation's Leadership in Dance Award

August 18, 2015

The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (DDCF) announced today the 18 outstanding dance companies and presenters receiving grants through the first-ever Leadership Grants Program for Dance. This all-new initiative supports the self-defined, long-term goals of organizations that have demonstrated excellence in and sustained commitment to the field of dance.

Grantees distinguished themselves by the quality of their choreography, the impact of their touring on communities across the country, and the successful expansion of their own initiatives and educational programming. DDCF is now providing each organization with flexible funds that encourage them to build upon the unique courses they have already charted and to continue to pursue their vision for the long term. This new support will enable grantees to realize their plans to increase organizational capacity, execute new artistic initiatives, strengthen data and evaluation systems, or other strategies that they have determined will best lead them to continued success.

Ben Cameron, program director for the arts at DDCF, said, "These grants support dance companies and dance presenters that have been leaders, both artistically and organizationally, thinking creatively about reaching audiences in exciting new ways. We are honored to support their work with these flexible grants, designed to help them achieve their self-defined, long-term goals."

The 18 organizations are:

  • Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (New York, NY), with a grant of $500,000
  • Alonzo King LINES Ballet (San Francisco, CA), with a grant of $500,000
  • AXIS Dance Company (Oakland, CA), with a grant of $200,000
  • Ballet Hispanico (New York, NY), with a grant of $500,000
  • Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) (Brooklyn, NY), with a grant of $500,000
  • Danspace Project, Inc. (New York, NY), with a grant of $200,000
  • Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (Chicago, IL), with a grant of $500,000
  • Jacob's Pillow Dance (Becket, MA), with a grant of $500,000
  • The Joyce Theater (New York, NY), with a grant of $500,000
  • Margaret Jenkins Dance Company (San Francisco, CA), with a grant of $200,000
  • Mark Morris Dance Group (Brooklyn, NY), with a grant of $1,000,000
  • ODC (San Francisco, CA), with a grant of $500,000
  • Stephen Petronio Company (New York, NY), with a grant of $200,000
  • Ragamala Dance Company (Minneapolis, MN), with a grant of $200,000
  • STREB (Brooklyn, NY), with a grant of $400,000
  • Paul Taylor Dance Company (New York, NY), with a grant of $500,000
  • Urban Bush Women (Brooklyn, NY), with a grant of $200,000
  • White Bird (Portland, OR), with a grant of $200,000

The Leadership Grants Program for Dance responds to the ongoing and dynamic evolution of the dance field in which many nationally celebrated companies may face future challenges or changes. The initiative acknowledges the various ways grantees may choose to embrace the years ahead, whether through artistic and/or organizational means. (Potential uses of the grant exclude physical capital investments and bricks-and-mortar projects.) DDCF has offered small organizations $200,000, mid-sized organizations $400,000 and large organizations $500,000 in grants that span up to four years. A single grant of $1 million goes to the Mark Morris Dance Group in recognition not only of the company but of its extensive efforts in education and outreach, including its dance program for Parkinson's disease patients. DDCF has also offered additional planning grants, ranging from $25,000-50,000 each, to provide several organizations with long-term strategic planning assistance.

About the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation

The mission of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation is to improve the quality of people's lives through grants supporting the performing arts, environmental conservation, medical research and child well-being, and through preservation of the cultural and environmental legacy of Doris Duke's properties. The Arts Program of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation focuses its support on contemporary dance, jazz and theatre artists, and the organizations that nurture, present and produce them. For more information, please visit www.ddcf.org.

Aparna Ramaswamy Awarded a National Dance Project Production Grant for They Rose at Dawn

July 27, 2015

The New England Foundation for the Arts announced their support of the creation of 18 new dance works that will tour the United States, including Aparna Ramaswamy’s newest solo work, They Rose at Dawn.

These awarded works will be created by choreographers and companies with exceptional artistic voices and at different stages in their career, all of whom have a track record of professional production and touring. Eighteen projects were selected out of 124 competitive applications by a panel of national dance leaders who serve rotating three-year terms.

NEFA Executive director Cathy Edwards noted, “The impact of the National Dance Project in the creation and distribution of new dance works in the United States is extraordinary. This sustainable model, supported by visionary funders at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, has been critical to the choreographic landscape in the United States.”

They Rose at Dawn will premiere October 6-8 at The Joyce Theater in New York. Confirmed presenting venues include NYU Abu Dhabi Arts Center (UAE), The Cowles Center (Minneapolis, MN), The McCarter Theater (Princeton, New Jersey), The Weitz Center at Carleton College (Northfield, MN), and Maui Arts & Culture (Maui, HI).

Since 1996, NDP has been a primary system of support for the contemporary dance field, supporting the creation and touring of new dance works.  In a field that has been historically under-funded, NDP remains the only national program dedicated to supporting individual dance artists and companies in a broad range of genres, whether established or emerging.  To date, including these awards, NDP has supported the creation of 359 new dance works, partnering directly with more than 350 U.S. presenting organizations to bring high caliber dance projects to all 50 states, D.C. and the U.S. Virgin Islands.  Each year, 20 to 25 different dance projects are featured in engagements in an average of 250 communities across the country. These touring engagements create new connections between community members and artists, offer unique opportunities for artistic growth, and increase access to the arts and the creative process. NEFA's National Dance Project Production and Presentation grants are generously supported with lead funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

NYU Abu Dhabi is lead commissioner of Written in Water & will present the Middle East premiere of They Rose at Dawn

June 24, 2015

Ragamala will be traveling to New York University's campus in Abu Dhabi, UAE, for two weeks in October for the Middle East premiere of Aparna Ramaswamy's They Rose at Dawn (fresh off it's world premiere at the Joyce Theater in New York), and a developmental residency for the company's newest work, Written in Water. Additional commissioning partners include Opening Nights at Florida State University (Talahassee, FL), The Cowles Center for Dance & Performing Arts (Minneapolis, MN) and The Yard (Chilmark, MA).

"We are thrilled that our first full season will include some of the world's most influential master artists, alongside innovative artists from younger generations, nearly all of whom will be performing in the UAE for the very first time," says Bill Bragin, The Arts Center Executive Artistic Director.

14 dancers and musicians will participate in the residency, which includes a site-specific performance of Sacred Earth as part of Sabab: A Creative Convening; the Middle East
premiere of They Rose at Dawn at The Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi;

development and rehearsals of Written in Water, including open rehearsals and work-in-progress showings; classes, lectures, and master classes/workshops led by Artistic Directors Ranee Ramaswamy and Aparna Ramaswamy.

For more information, please visit the Arts Center website

The Joyce Theater to present Aparna Ramaswamy this October

May 20th, 2015

They Rose at Dawn premieres at
The Joyce Theater
October 6-8, 2015

"Rapturous and profound," says The New York Times about Aparna Ramaswamy, the Bharatanatyam dancer/choreographer who makes her Joyce debut with They Rose at Dawn. In this solo work, women are depicted as carriers of ritual who navigate inner and outer worlds as they invoke a sense of reverence, of unfolding mystery, of imagination. 

A stellar Carnatic musical ensemble accompanies Ramaswamy as she explores the spontaneous   interplay between music and movement and the dynamic contours created by the artists onstage.

The Joyce Theater website

The Joyce Theater
175 Eighth Avenue
New York, NY 10011
(212) 691-9740 

Ragamala turns 23 with a series of summer events

April 15, 2015

A recent study by the London School of Economics concluded that 23 and 69 are the happiest ages - and we agree! Ragamala turns 23 this summer, and we couldn't be happier with where we are today.

Our very first production, Ragamala: A Painting in Motion, premiered in 1992, and since then we have created over 40 original productions, toured to more than 200 cities, and reached thousands of people - and we're ready to celebrate! Ragamala will be partnering with Al's Breakfast, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and the Cedar Cultural Center - iconic establishments that help define the Twin Cities - on a series of events to celebrate Ragamala's birthday. We hope you will join us for some (or all) of the festivities!

Annual Indian Dinner at Al's Breakfast - Dinkytown, Minneapolis
Thursday, May 28, 2015
Anytime between 5:30 and 8:30pm

Over 60 years old, Al's Breakfast is a James Beard Award winning Minneapolis staple that has been featured on The Food Network's "Dives, Diners, and Drive-ins." An annual fan favorite, our "Al's Dinner" transforms the beloved diner into a south Indian hotspot for one night only.  

Enjoy a home-cooked Indian dinner designed and prepared by co-Artistic Director Ranee Ramaswamy with help from the Ragamala dancers and staff. Pull up a stool and chat with the company members while you eat, or stop by for quick and easy take-out!

Suggested donation: $15 per plate

Birthday party/annual fundraiser at the Cedar Cultural Center
featuring DJ Rekha
Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Cedar Cultural Center is a highly eclectic music venue that is fundamental to the city's vibrant arts and culture scene. The Cedar and Ragamala are excited to collaborate to bring New York-based DJ Rekha to the Twin Cities for the first time! 

Credited with pioneering Bhangra music in North America, Newsweek recognized her as one of the most influential South Asians in the US,and she has received accolades from The New York Times, CNN, The Fader, The Village Voice, and The Washington Post, among others. Join DJ Rekha and Ragamala for the dance party of the summer! All ages welcome.

Tickets: $18 in advance $20 at the door
$50 Birthday celebration tickets are also available, $30 is a tax-deductible donation to Ragamala.

Ranee Ramaswamy receives 2014 Doris Duke Artist Award

April 22, 2014

NEW YORK, NY - The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (DDCF) announced today the first-ever recipients of the Doris Duke Impact Awards and the third group of individuals to receive Doris Duke Artist Awards. Both awards are part of the Doris Duke Performing Artist Awards, a special, ten-year initiative of the foundation to empower, invest in and celebrate artists by offering flexible, multi-year funding in response to financial challenges that are specific to the performing arts. Doris Duke Artist Award recipients receive $275,000, and Doris Duke Impact Award recipients receive $80,000. Since commencing in April 2012, the program has awarded a total of $18.1 million to artists in the fields of jazz, dance and theatre.


Ranee Ramaswamy founded Ragamala Dance in 1993, and currently serves as co-artistic director with her daughter, Aparna Ramaswamy. A master teacher, performer, and choreographer of the South Indian classical form of Bharatanatyam, she has tirelessly worked for the last three decades to find a place for the form in the landscape of American dance. Since her first cross-cultural collaboration with poet

Robert Bly, Ranee's work has merged the classical language of Bharatanatyam with a contemporary Western aesthetic to create timeless pieces that freely move between the past and the present. Her many awards and honors include 14 McKnight Artist Fellowships, a USA Fellowship (2012), a McKnight Distinguished Artist Award (2011), and multiple MAP Fund and NEFA National Dance Project grants. She currently serves on the National Council on the Arts, appointed by President Barack Obama. Song of the Jasmine-a new work by Ragamala in collaboration with jazz saxophonist and fellow Doris Duke Artist Rudresh Mahanthappa-will premiere at the Walker Art Center in May 2014. 


Ben Cameron, program director for the arts at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, said, "One of the great joys for us at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation is the annual announcement of Doris Duke Artist Award grantees. This year's roster is an extraordinary group, representing a wide range of artistic styles, ages, communities and experiences. We're honored to recognize their singular achievements and their continuing influence on their respective fields, and to offer them this extraordinary commitment of time and money. Furthermore, we are especially happy to announce the first ever class of Doris Duke Impact Award grantees-artists chosen from a larger pool of nominations submitted by previous Doris Duke Artist Award recipients. These Impact Awards make a strong statement about the power these artists will have in shaping the fields of dance, theatre and jazz, and represent a new way for us to expand our reach to embrace artists we may not have supported in the past."

David Henry Hwang, a recipient of the Doris Duke Artist Award, said, "Though my first play premiered in New York almost 35 years ago, the commitment to continue creating new, original work grows, if anything, more challenging in middle age, particularly with kids heading off to college. My deepest gratitude to the Doris Duke Artist Awards for understanding and addressing the unique demands of a long-term artistic career. When I learned the amazing news that I was a 2014 recipient, I thought, 'Fantastic! Now I can afford to keep writing plays!'" 

Ambrose Akinmusire, a recipient of the Doris Duke Impact Award, said, "I was shocked and grateful to be recognized by my peers for my work, which is so personal to me. There is a lot of pressure to be commercial and not to take risks. This award will allow me to take more risks in my work, and to embark on collaborations that I've long wanted to do with other artists but that wouldn't otherwise be financially possible for me."

About the Doris Duke Artist Awards
Each recipient of a Doris Duke Artist Award receives $275,000-including an unrestricted, multi-year cash grant of $225,000, plus as much as $25,000 more in targeted support for audience development and as much as $25,000 more for personal reserves or creative exploration during what are usually retirement years for most Americans. Artists will be able to access their awards over a period of three to five years under a schedule set by each recipient. Creative Capital, DDCF's primary partner in the Doris Duke Performing Artist Awards, will also offer the awardees the opportunity to participate in professional development activities, financial and legal counseling, and regional gatherings-all designed to help them personalize and maximize the use of their grants

Ruby Lerner, founding president and executive director of Creative Capital, said, "We're so excited to welcome these exceptional artists to both the Duke and Creative Capital communities. It will be a privilege for us to share the tools and resources we've developed over the past 15 years with this stellar group of artists." 

To qualify for consideration by the review panels, all the Doris Duke Artists must have won grants, prizes or awards on a national level for at least three different projects over the past ten years, with at least one project having received support from a DDCF-funded program. The panel chose the artists based on demonstrated evidence of exceptional creativity, ongoing self-challenge and the continuing potential to make significant contributions to the fields of jazz, contemporary dance and theatre in the future. By the end of the initiative, 100 artists will have been named Doris Duke Artists.

About the Doris Duke Performing Artist Awards
The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation is granting these awards as part of a larger $50 million, ten-year commitment beyond its already existing funding for the performing arts. The first 21 Doris Duke Artists were announced in April 2012, and to date, 80 artists have been awarded $18,375,000.

By the end of the ten years, the foundation will have offered a total of at least 200 artists greatly expanded freedom to create, through an initiative that makes available the largest allocation of unrestricted cash grants ever given to individuals in contemporary dance, jazz, and theatre. Provided to honorees through a rigorous, anonymous process of peer review-no applications are accepted-the grants are not tied to any specific project but are made as investments in the artistsʼ personal and professional development and future work.

The Doris Duke Artist Awards and the Doris Duke Impact Awards will be announced in classes of approximately twenty between 2012 and 2016, and 2014 and 2018, respectively. More information about the Doris Duke Performing Artist Awards is available at www.ddpaa.org.

About the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation
The mission of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation is to improve the quality of peopleʼs lives through grants supporting the performing arts, environmental conservation, medical research and child well-being, and through preservation of the cultural and environmental legacy of Doris Dukeʼs properties. The Arts Program of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation focuses its support on contemporary dance, jazz and theatre artists, and the organizations that nurture, present and produce them. For more information, please visit www.ddcf.org.

About Creative Capital
Creative Capital supports innovative and adventurous artists across the country through funding, counsel and career development services. Our pioneering approach-inspired by venture-capital principles- helps artists working in all creative disciplines realize their visions and build sustainable practices. Since 1999, Creative Capital has committed $30 million in financial and advisory support to 419 projects representing 529 artists, and our Professional Development Program has reached 7,000 artists in more than 300 communities. For more information, visit www.creative-capital.org.

Press Contact:
Kristin Roth-Schrefer Communications Officer
Doris Duke Charitable Foundation

Song of the Jasmine receives National Dance Project Award

July 2, 2013

The National Dance project has awarded a competetive touring award to Song of the Jasmine which guarantees subisidies for the 2014/15 touring season. NDP provides a dynamic system of support that encourages the creation of new dance works and enables audiences across the nation to experience the work of compelling and diverse dance artists.

Artists of the year 2011: Ranee and Aparna Ramaswamy

The artistic directors of Ragamala Dance use their art form as a prism to refract both the ancient and the modern
Caroline Palmer, Special to the Star Tribune
January 1, 2012
Original article


Ragamala Dance exudes radiant beauty.

When the Minneapolis troupe opened the inaugural season of the $42 million Cowles Center this fall with “Sacred Earth,” the world premiere united three timeless art forms. There was majestic Bharatanatyam dance (rooted in 2,000 years of history), the haunting music of a live South Indian orchestra and projected images inspired by indigenous wall paintings. The dancers shimmered with an energy that comes from inner passion, technical mastery and cultural pride.

It was as if the artists directed a golden light from India into the eyes of a Minneapolis audience.

This memorable moment was among many for Ragamala artistic directors Ranee Ramaswamy and Aparna Ramaswamy in a year that included the creation of substantial new work, national touring, a showcase at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and rave reviews from all over.

The choreographers, ages 59 and 35, continued to advance their dance form into the 21st century, winning kudos for a vibrant modern-day vision born out of ancient Indian tradition. This is why the Star Tribune has selected these impressive women as Artists of the Year. “Somehow, two people make one voice.” That’s how Ragamala dancer Ashwini Ramaswamy describes the close creative connection between her mother and sister.

Ragamala preserves custom, but with a contemporary twist. “That’s really important, because if you’re saying you’re from a tradition, you have to be true to the tradition — but you can’t be bound by your tradition,” said Aparna.

Overcoming discouragement
The artistic bond grew soon after the 26-year-old Ranee and toddler Aparna arrived in the Twin Cities in 1978. Although trained in childhood, Ranee was discouraged from dancing as an adult and was expected to focus on her family. But opportunities kept arising, as if fate were testing her.

In 1983, when Ranee and Aparna met Alarmél Valli, a renowned Bharatanatyam soloist, they found a guru.

“I think one reason we work so well is that we studied together,” said Aparna in a recent interview at Ragamala’s studio in the Lyn-Lake area of Minneapolis. “I was a young child, and she was an adult, but it was a joint venture.” Through Valli they immersed themselves in the poetic form that finds expressive possibility in every gesture and step, from the hands to the eyes to the feet.

Now confident in a shared mission, the two riff off each other like jazz musicians. “We manipulate each other’s movements and ideas. I say ‘How about this, how about that?’ and she’ll say ‘I got it, I’ll change it, I’ll do this,’” said Ranee.

Beyond the studio, the close-knit Ramaswamy family spans four generations. Ranee’s parents (Dr. T.N. and Menaka Ananthakrishnan) now spend half the year in Minnesota. Aparna and attorney husband Tim Nelson have 2-year-old twins. Ashwini, 30, is active in the company as a performer and administrator.

Ranee founded Ragamala in 1992, when she was 40. She has overseen its growth into a thriving company and school with a $688,000 budget this year and five dancers in addition to the choreographers.

Maximum India
Among highlights of 2011 was Ragamala’s selection as one of only two companies from the United States to perform at the Kennedy Center’s Maximum India Festival in March.

“They definitely brought their A-game to Washington, D.C.,” said Alicia Adams, the center’s vice president of international programming and dance. She called Ragamala an “exceptional” troupe: “If it were a competition, they could compete with the best of them. We had all of the top companies from south India.”

While there, Ragamala earned praise for its performance of “Yathra” from the notoriously hard-to-please New York Times critic Alastair Macaulay. He singled out Aparna as an “enchantingly beautiful dancer” for her solo work.

“Yathra,” a lush journey through the life cycle, had its Twin Cities premiere later that month at the O’Shaughnessy.

Frequently on tour
The Kennedy Center wasn’t Ragamala’s only tour stop in 2011. “Sacred Earth” has been performed in five different venues since the Cowles premiere in September, with 20 more bookings coast-to-coast set for 2012. In an honor just announced, Ragamala will perform at the American Dance Festival in Durham, N.C., in July.

Ben Johnson, who runs the Northrop Dance program at the University of Minnesota, said this “is an amazing amount for any company in one season. That helps put other dance from Minnesota on the radar nationally and internationally.”

Ranee won the McKnight Foundation’s 2011 Distinguished Artist award. She is the first dancer and youngest person to win this lifetime-achievement recognition.

“She has worked with choreographers and musicians from just about every genre, as well as writers and visual artists — always, somehow, creating work that is transformative,” said Vickie Benson, McKnight’s program director for the arts. “The Distinguished Artist panel saw all of this and more in her work and life as an artist who decided to stay in Minnesota even though she could have gone anywhere.”

“My mom’s been doing this for so long and she’s getting recognition for her work and innovation,” said Aparna, who expects that she and Ranee will inspire each other into the future. “Every once in a while she says, ‘I need to take some time off, I’m going to retire,’ and I say, ‘You can’t retire. I did this in my childhood, you can do it in your old age. You retire when I retire!’”

In other words, anticipate many more good years from the remarkable Ramaswamys.