Review: Ashwini Ramaswamy Goes Solo at the Drive East Festival
Gia Kourlas, The New York Times
August 12, 2015
Dancers are like anyone else: Sometimes they get the urge to leave the nest. Ashwini Ramaswamy, a soloist with the much-admired Ragamala Dance Company, struck out on her own on Tuesday night at Drive East, the excellent festival of Indian music and dance playing through Sunday at the Ellen Stewart Theater at La MaMa.
Ragamala, based in Minneapolis, is led by the artistic directors Ranee and Aparna Ramaswamy and specializes in the classical style of Bharatanatyam. (Ranee is Ashwini Ramaswamy’s mother; Aparna is her sister.) For this performance, Ms. Ramaswamy opened with “Shankara Sri Giri,” a dance honoring the Shiva Nataraja, the creator and destroyer of the universe, as choreographed by Alarmél Valli. This solo of sacred movement wove together, both fearfully and joyfully, the human and the divine as expressed through the body of Ms. Ramaswamy.
Despite her gleaming beauty, Ms. Ramaswamy presents herself with a forthright simplicity, imbuing her refined, sculptural muscularity with a tranquillity that contrasts with the springy exuberance of her feet. Whether emphasizing thrusting heels or balancing in a sacred pose with one leg raised and bent forward, she neither rushes nor remains frozen: Within each articulation is the sense that there is breath — or a continual flow of energy — coursing through her limbs.
In “Varnam,” the dancer longs to be united with Lord Vishnu. Before this exploration of love got underway, Ranee Ramaswamy, the work’s choreographer as well as a player in the four-member orchestra, explained that it was “a metaphor for the ecstasy that one feels for the divine.”
A half-smile brought an impish candor to Ashwini Ramaswamy’s face and dancing eyes, while her light jumps and tilting torso pulled her from one diagonal to the other. She had been heroic before; now she exuded the darting ebullience of a butterfly.
As she pined for Vishnu, opening her fingers like blossoms, Ms. Ramaswamy embodied a youthful restlessness that took on even more speed and valor in the finale, “Thillana,” choreographedby Ms. Valli.
But the all-woman orchestra also gave this program luster. Along with Ranee Ramaswamy on nattuvangam, or cymbals, the musical accompaniment included the lush singing of Roopa Mahadevan and robust violin playing by Anjna Swaminathan. Rajna Swaminathan, her sister , on mridangam, kept the beat. In classical Indian dance, such girl power is a rare and welcome sight.