Dance, music, art, poetry... the Ragamala Dance Company's upcoming performance of "Sacred Earth" at the Historic Holmes Theatre combines all of these elements into an unforgettable theatrical experience.
"'Sacred Earth' is a signature piece," said dancer Tamara Nadel in a presentation to Lake Park-Audubon High School instructor Christopher Ward's art class Tuesday afternoon. "It's one of our favorites.
"'Sacred Earth' was created about six years ago by our artistic directors (Ranee and Aparna Ramaswamy), who are also mother and daughter."
Nadel explained that the program, which will be presented at the Holmes Theatre this Thursday, Sept. 28 at 7:30 p.m., incorporates a classical form of dance from southern Indian known as the "Bharatanatyam."
Using the traditional poses of Bharatanatyam, different generations may create their own version of the dance, but "the lineage remains the same," Nadel explained.
"It's the basic language we use to write 'dance poetry,'" she added.
'Sacred Earth' also incorporates elements of two traditional forms of Indian folk art, Nadel explained: The Kolam and the wall designs of the Warli people.
It is this art form that Nadel hopes to teach the students of Ward's class over the next few days, as part of Ragamala's week-long artist residency at the Holmes.
On Tuesday, she began the first session at LP-A by showing examples of both Kolam and Warli designs, then had the students create some basic Kolam patterns using an elaborate form of "connect the dots."
First, she gave the students each a sheet of paper with different dot patterns on it, then showed them how to connect those dots to make the lines that formed the basis of increasingly intricate Kolam designs.
Finally, Nadel explained how 'Sacred Earth' also incorporates elements of Tamil Sangam poetry.
This is how the connection between art, dance and poetry is described in the study guide that Nadel distributed as part of the course at LP-A: "Each morning, women in southeastern India perform the silent ritual of kolam, making rice flour designs on the ground as conscious offerings to Mother Earth. This daily ritual creates a sacred space and becomes a link between the intimate home and the vastness of the outside world. The indigenous Warli people of western India revere the land and live in perfect coexistence with nature. Using their everyday lives as inspiration, their dynamic wall paintings find the spiritual in the everyday. For the Tamil Sangam poets of South India, the Earth was sacred. Recognizing that human activities are interwoven with all of creation, they drew parallels between inner and outer landscape and used the natural world as a metaphor to examine the intricacies of human emotion."
Nadel and fellow dancer Jessica Fiala also spent some time performing for patients and staff at Essentia Health-St. Mary's in Detroit Lakes on Tuesday morning. First in the clinic lobby, then the hospital cafeteria, the duo showcased some of Ragamala's more simple dances for an ever-changing audience, as clinic patients and cafeteria customers filed in and out of each venue. Cafeteria customers were also treated to small samples of some traditional Indian dishes.
That evening, the Ragamala dancers went to Northern Lights Dance Studio in Frazee for a master dance class with the studio's high school-age students.
Other stops on their four-day artist residency included a beginner dance class this morning (Wednesday) at the Detroit Lakes Community & Cultural Center, as well as a 30-minute performance for residents of Ecumen-Emmanuel Nursing Home this afternoon.
Thursday night's main stage performance at the Holmes Theatre, featuring the full dance company, will be followed by additional Friday appearances in the community by some of the dancers, including a short performance for residents of Lincoln Park Senior Apartments in Detroit Lakes, followed by tea and a traditional form of Indian dessert to be served to those in attendance. The Ragamala dancers will conclude their residency in the community with a final performance for LP-A High School art and photography students in Lake Park on Friday afternoon.
Nadel noted that their outreach activities in the community this week are funded, in part, by the Minnesota State Arts Board, via the Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.