Ragamala featured in MinnPost's "25 best things we saw and heard in 2017"

The 25 best things we saw and heard in 2017: A year in the arts
Pamela Espeland, MinnPost
December 21, 2017
Original Article

Before looking back at art we loved, a moment to remember artists we lost.

Maestro Stanislaw Skrowaczewski died on Feb. 21; a memorial service was held in his honor at Orchestra Hall in March. Soul singer Sonny Knight died on June 17, felled by lung cancer; after an earlier try at a music career in the 1960s and ’70s, he had found fame and success in his 60s. When we spoke with him at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 2015, he was the sweetest, most humble man.

Poet, performance, artist, teacher, mentor and bluesician J. Otis Powell‽ died on Aug. 28. Songwriter, drummer and Hüsker Dü co-founder Grant Hart passed away on Sept. 13 after an illness. He gave what would be his final performance at the Hook and Ladder on July 1, surprised that so many of his friends had shown up.

Let’s all be good to each other, and more kind. Even online.

In Minnesota and in the Twin Cities, we live among an embarrassment of arts riches. It’s tough to choose just 25 events and call them the best. But these are the ones that stood out and stayed with us, that made us think, feel and see things differently.

Pekka Kuusisto and the SPCO: “Time Machine” at the Ordway Concert Hall.The warmth and joy of this concert, the excellence of the playing and Kuusisto’s charisma made this a perfect start to the New Year.

Andrew Schneider’s “Youarenowhere” at the Walker. A torrent of words, ideas, digressions, fast moves and trickery, delivered by a bare-chested man. We were never so happy to be fooled.

Ragamala Dance Company: “Written in Water” at the Cowles. An ambitious and satisfying evening of original music, Hindu myth, imagery, and the sensuous storytelling of classical Indian dance.

“Penumbra Theatre at 40” at the History Center. Sets, costumes, scripts, clips and props were glimpses into the history and soul of the largest African-American theater in the U.S.

Maria Schneider Orchestra: “The Thompson Fields” at the O’Shaughnessy. Lush, gorgeous, nature-inspired, picture-painting music by a jazz composer, bandleader and multiple Grammy winner born and raised in Windom.

Minnesota Orchestra: “Future Classics: Emerging Composers Spotlight.” New works by seven young composers, performed by the orchestra under Osmo Vänskä’s baton. One quipped, “It’s safe to say it’s all downhill from now on for all of us.”

“Merce Cunningham: Common Time” at the Walker. Eight galleries of costumes, set pieces, props, backdrops, films, music, manuscripts, and more, plus a slew of live performances. Mega-Merce.

“Twisted Apples: Stories from Winesburg, Ohio” at Nautilus Music-Theatre.Moving tales of small-town life and loneliness, reborn as chamber opera in an intimate space.

Kidd Pivot/Electric Company Theatre: “Betroffenheit” at Northrop. A journey through trauma and grief, told in words, music and virtuosic dance. We were awestruck and destroyed.

Rennie Harris and Michael Sakamoto: “Flash” at Intermedia Arts. Hip hop met and merged with butoh in an astonishingly beautiful evening of physical conversation, collaboration and revelation.

Claudia Rankine’s “Citizen: An American Lyric” at Intermedia Arts. Stephen Sachs adapted Rankine’s meditation on race for the stage; Frank Theatre brought it to life with conviction and quiet power.

Bedroom Community and Friends at the American Swedish Institute. Neither the loss of a featured vocalist (visa issues) nor the threat of rain derailed Liquid Music’s splendid concert on the grounds of the Turnblad Mansion.

Full Circle Theater Company: “A 2017 Remix of 46 Plays Selected from ‘365 Days/365 Plays’ ” at the Penumbra. The multiracial company founded by Rick Shiomi et al. nailed this collage created from Suzan-Lori Parks’ magnum opus. What’s next, Full Circle?

BrownBody Presents “CoMotion” at the Charles M. Schultz Highland Arena.Stories of African-American history and culture, told on ice by figure skaters of color.

“Don Giovanni” at the Woman’s Club. Skylark Opera set Mozart’s opera in Prohibition-era 1932, ran us around the Woman’s Club, fed us small bites and sang in our ears.  

McCoy Tyner and Joshua Redman in Mears Park. The standout set in a strong Twin Cities Jazz Festival paired a living legend on piano with a boundless talent on saxophone.

“Black Magnesia” at the Southern. Three nights of improvisation by almost 20 area musicians, conceived and curated by Joe Horton. This was hard-core but so rewarding.

“Romeo and Juliet” at the Guthrie. There was real chemistry between the star-crossed lovers in this fresh, youthful production. Mercutio was played by a woman, and the set was magical.

Savion Glover and Marcus Gilmore at the Dakota. The superstar tap dancer and in-demand drummer held an hour-long dialogue in rhythm, and we hung on every beat.

“Speechless” at the Lab Theater. In a time of many words – often angry, cruel and divisive — the Moving Company gave us a wordless evening of beauty, hope, grace and lovingkindness.

“The Rise of the Minneapolis Sound” at the Fitzgerald. The Current’s Andrea Swensson turned her debut book release into a concert spanning 65 years of Twin Cities soul music. The finale was a tribute to Sonny Knight.

BRKFST Dance: “Seconds” at the Southern. A dazzling night of dance by seven fearless dancers schooled in hip hop, martial arts and contemporary dance. We can’t wait to see more.

Fat Kid Wednesdays at Icehouse. A night of transcendant improvised music before a hushed, rapt crowd in a room that also hosts the SPCO.

“Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” at the Jungle. The first holiday show in the Jungle’s history was witty, romantic and a big hit, so we can expect to see it again.

Benny Green at the Dunsmore Room. A living encyclopedia of jazz, Green payed homage to past masters including Cedar Walton and played a zillion notes on the Dunsmore’s Steinway.

BONUS: We have to add one more because it’s so good and it’s still going on (through Dec. 31).


Preview - Written in Water at Cal Performances

Ragamala Dance Company’s Artistic Masterpiece ‘Written in Water’ to Be Showcased in Berkeley Dec. 2
India-West Staff Reporter
November 16, 2017
Original Article

A performance by the dancers of the Minneapolis, Minnesota-based Ragamala Dance Company, co-founded by Ranee and Aparna Ramaswamy, an Indian American mother-daughter duo, who are “dissolving the very boundaries of their art forms, creating performances that cut across cultures and disciplines, accepted definitions of classical and contemporary, and even time and space,” has been added to the lineup of Cal Performances at UC Berkeley’s 2017-18 season, titled, “Berkeley Radical.”

The performances of “Written in Water,” scheduled for Dec. 2 at 8 p.m. and Dec. 3 at 3 p.m. at Zellerbach Playhouse at the University of California, Berkeley, represent the theme of “Berkeley Radical – Blurring Boundaries.”

Rooted in the classical south Indian Bharatanatyam dance form, “Written in Water” draws on ancient influences and practices to explore the cultural complexities of the modern world.

The full-length work is choreographed by Ranee and Aparna, also the artistic directors of the dance company, and danced to live music, with an original score commissioned from Iraqi American trumpeter and composer Amir ElSaffar and Indian composer Prema Ramamurthy.

Now in its 25th season, Ragamala, according to its founders, embodies the spirit of the “Blurring Boundaries” programming strand in both its mastery of, and bold relationship to, tradition. “The company’s dedication to innovation and openness to collaboration have led it deeper into the essence of the Bharatanatyam art form, to find ways of organically introducing new genres and ideas into a centuries-old practice,” the duo stated in a press release.

The company has toured extensively, highlighted by performances at The Joyce Theater, the American Dance Festival, Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center, Music Center of Los Angeles, Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art, International Festival of Arts and Ideas, University Musical Society at the University of Michigan, Just Festival in Edinburgh, U.K., Bali Arts Festival in Indonesia, Sri Krishna Gana Sabha in Chennai, India, and National Centre for Performing Arts in Mumbai, India.

Ranee is a 2014 recipient of the Doris Duke Performing Artist Award. Among her many honors are 14 McKnight Artist Fellowships for Choreography and Interdisciplinary Art, a Bush Fellowship for Choreography, a 2011 McKnight Distinguished Artist Award, and a 2012 United States Artists Fellowship.

“Written in Water” unfolds over three movements, each showing markedly different shifts in character: the first movement draws on the ancient Indian board game Paramapadam (also known as Snakes and Ladders) to explore life’s travails; the second movement looks at the tension between good and evil through the Hindu myth Ksheerabthi Madanam, which tells of the churning of the seven seas; and the final movement pursues the divine, and ideas of transcendence, through the epic Sufi poem, “The Conference of the Birds,” which tells of birds who travel through seven valleys to achieve immortality.

The score, performed live by ElSaffar and four additional musicians, combines American jazz, traditional Iraqi maqam, and Indian Carnatic music.

Several public programs are planned in conjunction with the performances. Ragamala artists will host a participatory Snakes and Ladders workshop Dec. 1 at 5 p.m. onstage in Zellerbach Playhouse. Company dancers will lead participants in playing the ancient Indian board game Paramapadam, a central inspiration for “Written in Water.”

Participants are invited to explore the moral and psychological implications of the game in this introduction to the conceptual underpinnings of the work, and learn how Ragamala creates complex, multidisciplinary, and culturally complex dances. Tickets are $5, and capacity is limited; pre-registration is required at calperformances.org/learn/berkeley-radical/2016-17/programs.php.

A public forum is also planned with the Ramaswamys, ElSaffar, and Cal Performances associate director Rob Bailis Dec. 3 at 1 p.m. at Zellerbach Playhouse. The talk is free and open to the public.

Tickets for “Written in Water” on both days are priced at $58 (prices subject to change). Half-price tickets are available for UC Berkeley students. Tickets are available through the ticket office at Zellerbach Hall at (510) 642-9988, at calperformances.org, and at the door.

For more information or discounts, visit calperformances.org.


MN Monthly - Family Dynasties

October 2017

Andrew Stark & Erik Tormoen, MN Monthly

Dancer and choreographer Ranee Ramaswamy created a space for classical Indian performance in Minnesota after she moved here from India with her three-year-old daughter, Aparna, in 1978. In the mid ‘80s, one of India’s premier dancers visited the Twin Cities and took Ranee and Aparna under her tutelage. Around 1992, the year she founded Minneapolis’ Ragamala Dance Company, Ranee started adapting her centuries-old art for mainstream audiences. Since then, as co-artistic director and artistic associate, Aparna and her younger sister, Ashwini, respectively, have worked alongside their mother to maintain Indian cultural integrity while achieving global accessibility.

“It’s hard for people to get their minds around the fact that we do create work together. I think especially when it’s me and my mother, people often think: Ranee started it, now Aparna’s throwing it on. But it’s only when they hear our story that they understand how we are partners. She is not grooming the next generation. We’ve always been one generation. And I’ve been observing this my whole life, so it feels natural to slip into the mix. And now Ashwini’s joining us. It’s a mother, one daughter, and then another daughter...The fact that we have this perspective that comes from different ages and different experiences and different immigrant stories is really valuable to our work.”
- Aparna Ramaswamy


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