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.”