Sacred Earth

Brainerd Dispatch - Preview - Sacred Earth

A Blend of Exotic and Familiar: Ragamala Dance Company presents 'Sacred Earth'
Brainerd Dispatch
January 18, 2018
Original Article

Combining ancient dance form with familiar ideas about the earth and the stewardship of it, the world renowned Ragamala Dance Company will present "Sacred Earth" at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 9 in the Chalberg Theatre at Central Lakes College in Brainerd.

The performance is part of the Central Lakes Community Performing Arts Center's Cultural Arts Series.

"We're very pleased to be able to present this company," CLC series producer Patrick Spradlin stated in a news release. "They are a fabulously talented group, and their work is of such high artistic merit."

Ragamala Dance Company was founded in Minneapolis in 1992 by Ranee Ramaswamy. Now under the direction of Ranee and Aparna Ramaswamy (mother and daughter), the company is in its 25th season of creating intercultural, collaborative performance works that forge together ancestry and continuity. In this milestone year, long-time Ragamala soloist Ashwini Ramaswamy has joined her mother and sister in their intergenerational creative partnership.

The company has been recognized with awards from numerous grants organizations such as the National Endowment for the Arts, National Dance Project, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, McKnight Foundation, Japan Foundation/New York, USArtists International, New Music/USA, MAP Fund, American Composers Forum and two Joyce Awards from the Joyce Foundation.

Ragamala tours extensively, highlighted by the American Dance Festival, Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Music Center of Los Angeles, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, the International Festival of Arts and Ideas, University Musical Society at the University of Michigan, the Just Festival in Edinburgh, U.K., the Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi in United Arab Emirates, Sri Krishna Gana Sabha in Chennai and the National Centre for Performing Arts in Mumbai, among others.

Ragamala explores the myth and spirituality of the members' Indian heritage to engage with what they see as the dynamic tension between the historical, the ancestral and the personal, the release stated. They approach the South Indian dance form of Bharatanatyam as a living, breathing language with which to speak about the contemporary human experience.

"'Sacred Earth' aims to explore the interconnectedness between human emotions and the environments that shape them," Aparna Ramaswamy stated. "The piece honors and celebrates the natural world and the interconnectedness of man and nature.

"At a time when the environment is front and center—climate change, depletion of natural resources, pollution and a host of other issues are front-page news—this piece was not created as a pointed social statement. But rather, we created the piece to underscore the enduring relationship between man and nature in ancient cultures. The interdependence between the two has existed since time immemorial, and is reflected through daily ritual, artistic practice and social thought."

Tickets are available from the CLC Theatre Box Office at 218-855-8199 or online at

"Sacred Earth" is sponsored by Arrowwood Lodge at Brainerd Lakes. The CLC Performing Arts Center season is made possible in part by an operating grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.

Detroit Lakes Online - Sacred Earth Preview

A feast for the senses: Ragamala Dance Company brings sights, sounds – and tastes – of India to Detroit Lakes
Vicki Gerdes, DL Online
October 2, 2017
Original Article

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.


Dance company makes a connection with ‘Sacred Earth’ and classic Indian form Bharatanatyam

Daisy Blake, The Salt Lake Tribune
November 10, 2016
Original Article

The classical dance form Bharatanatyam from India will be in the spotlight at the University of Utah this weekend as movement, music, visual art and poetry combine to celebrate connections between humans and nature.

Minnesota-based Ragamala Dance Company, formed by mother-daughter duo Ranee and Aparna Ramaswamy, will present "Sacred Earth" on Saturday at Kingsbury Hall as part of the new UtahPresents season.

Their work explores the dynamism of Bharatanatyam, from its ancient roots to its contemporary possibilities.

"Sacred Earth" aims to explore the interconnectedness between human emotions and the environments that shape them, says Aparna Ramaswamy, the daughter of the duo. " 'Sacred Earth' honors and celebrates the natural world and the interconnectedness of man and nature," she said. "At a time when the environment is front and center — climate change, depletion of natural resources, pollution and a host of other issues are front-page news — this piece was not created as a pointed social statement. But rather, we created the piece to underscore the enduring relationship between man and nature in ancient cultures. The interdependence between the two has existed since time immemorial, and is reflected through daily ritual, artistic practice and social thought."

Bharatanatyam, she said, has a history that goes back two millennia and is one of the six classical dance forms from India. "Each of these forms reflects the rich diversity, of history, language, music, etc., of the different regions of India. Being a classical form, Bharatanatyam has a codified language of technique. This language is just that — a foundation or physical vocabulary upon which a dancer or choreographer may build. But the essence of the form lives within its practitioners and lineage she/he carries, making the form a dynamic, living tradition. What makes the form most intriguing, complex, and a beautiful reflection of life itself is its multidimensionality, integrating music, movement, theater, philosophy, psychology and spirituality."

Aparna grew up in the U.S. and India and says dance connects her to her ancestry.

"I relish finding a balance between two cultures and feeling the irresistible pull of both countries," she said.

"During our time in India, we were fortunate to spend each day studying with the legendary dancer/choreographer Smt. Alarmel Valli. During our time in the United States, there was a great pressure to maintain the lessons learned in India and to be ready to return the following year. However, during this time we were also able gain valuable experience in performance and cultivate those skills. This also meant our presentation of Bharatanatyam to Western audiences began very early and laid the groundwork for an educated and appreciative audience in the years to come."

She said that in her world, dance and family are inextricably linked, as for the past three decades, she has worked in a collaborative partnership with her mother. "It began in 1984, when we both started training with our guru, Valli. As Valli's only two private students, we spent countless hours practicing in our guru's home studio, filling notebook after notebook so that every step, gesture and emotion fulfilled the promise of this rich form.

Her younger sister, Ashwini, also "is a beautiful dancer in her own right and a key member of our company. I feel so proud that the three of us have recently begun to create work together."

The evening of dance will begin with a showcase of Salt Lake's own Bharatanatyam dancers, including ChitraKaavya Dance, founded by Srilatha Singh and Jyothsna Sainath's Nitya Nritya Dance Company.

Sainath also started practicing Bharatanatyam as a child.

"I was born and raised in Bengaluru, India, and Bengaluru is one of the south Indian centers for Bharatanatyam," she said. "I started learning it just as little kids start to learn ballet here. Over time, however, I developed a love for the sophistication of its technique and narrative vocabulary."

Sainath said her family moved to Utah about two years ago from Lincoln, Neb., for professional reasons. "On moving here, and starting Nitya Nritya Dance Company, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Salt Lake Valley has a rich and long history of supporting the arts in general," Sainath said. "This combined with a fast-changing demographic has contributed to building an appetite for a wide variety of artistic experiences in the valley."

ChitraKaavya Dance founder Srilatha Singh said her husband's job originally brought the family to Salt Lake City from Atlanta, and the Bay Area before that. "I started ChitraKaavya Dance in 2012 to explore my passion for this ancient art form that I learned in my youth," she said. "ChitraKaavya translates to 'visual poetry,' and we at Chitrakaavya dance visualize movement as visual poetry. We are interested in performing our traditional repertoire as well as collaborating to create new and interesting dance items that can be relevant, accessible and add to the rich tapestry of dance in the Salt Lake Valley."


Tribute to Mother Earth
George Pioustin, The Hindu
January 22, 2015
Original article


With the ever increasing number of aficionados crossing cultural and geographical boundaries, Bharatanatyam has gained international recognition.

Exploring this contemporary possibility are performers and choreographers such as Ranee Ramaswamy and Aparna Ramaswamy, who are protégés and senior disciples of Alarmel Valli. As Indian dancers based in the U.S., their works reflect the rich heritage and deep philosophical roots of India amalgamated with the inquisitiveness and creative liberty of the United States.

Their initiative, Ragamala Dance Company, presented ‘Sacred Earth’ for Trinity Arts Festival of India at Sri Krishna Gana Sabha. ‘Sacred Earth’ delved into the interconnectedness of man and Nature.

The repertoire started with Lakshmi Stuthi from Sri Suktam, a choreographic piece by Alarmel Valli. Inspired by the philosophy and art of Kolam, the artists blended dance and drawing kolam designs on stage.

The Sangam poets’ works which use Nature as a metaphor to identify emotions, were taken to craft the repertoire. Tevakulattur’s verses from Kurunthokai 3 describing paalai tinai were followed by Paranar’s mullai tinai from Kurunthokai 36, Venputhi’s neythal tinai from Kurunthokai 97, Milai Kanthan’s marutham tinai from Kurunthokai 196 and Sempulappeyanirar’s kurinji tinai from Kurunthokai 40 respectively. ‘Sacred Earth’ concluded with Prithvi Suktam from Atharva Veda.

The choreography was visually opulent and filled with zest. Perfectly synchronised movements, pointing out the conspicuous rigorous rehearsals deserved compliments.

Though the crisp geometric formations throughout the nritta segments were impressive, there was less space for abhinaya.

The voice-overs throughout the performance lacked clarity and created ambiguity amidst the background music.

The beauty of the Pandanallur bani was well delineated by the dancers clad in earthen shades of yellow, brown and green, aptly designed for the theme. Ragamala Dance Company comprises lead dancers and choreographers Ranee Ramaswamy and Aparna Ramaswamy along with Aswini Ramaswamy, Tamara Nadel and Jessica Fiala. The orchestra had Ramya Kapadia on the vocal, Suchitra Sairam on the nattuvangam, Rajna Swaminathan on the mridangam and Anjana Swaminathan on the violin who gave melodic enrichment.


Taking Bharatanatyam to the Americans
Naveena Vijayan, The New Indian Express
January 4, 2015
Original article

CHENNAI: For US-based bharathanatyam dancer mother-daughter duo Ranee and Aparna Ramaswamy, performing for a crowd of Americans, even those who have no idea about the Indian tradition, has never been difficult. The disciples of veteran dancer Alarmel Valli package their performance in a way that is understandable for a layman — with talks before and after, and visual projections weaved into the dance — while keeping the form, technique, vigour and aesthetics of the dance untouched.

The duo is in the city for the performance ‘Sacred Earth’, a production by the Ragamala Dance Company started by them 22 years ago, as part of the Margazhi season. While the dance production has been performed in over 30 venues in the US, this is the first time they are bringing it to India. “The concept of the dance is about connecting with the earth. While there is a lot of talk going on about going organic and local, we should realise that it has been a part of our culture forever. It is very important for us to show this to the people in the US,” says Aparna. She quotes examples of kolam, as a way of giving back to the earth, and the Warli paintings, a tribal art form, which conveys the unity between humans and nature.

“For this production, we have taken four landscapes from Sangam poetry, which talk about the idea of this harmonious relationship. While the verses would be in Tamil, we have English translations of it weaved in. We also had a Warli artist staying with us in Minneapolis for a month, translating the meaning of the verses into life-size paintings. The photographs of these paintings were projected in the background as part of the show,” says Aparna.

The whole process — right from the conception of the idea— took the team a year and a half.

“Our aim is to convey the depth and beauty of an art form like bharathanatyam in a way people can understand and grab, and realise how relevant it can be to the present times,” says Ranee.

While a lot of research including talking to US-based experts in Indian literature went into the production, in case of any hiccups in the techniques of dance, they had their guiding light their guru Alarmel Valli. “She has moulded and shaped me into what I am today. It has been a life-changing experience to be learning from her,” says Aparna, who started training under her when she was eight years old.

Ranee recalls, “It was in 1984, when we first saw her perform in Minneapolis. I was so blown away by her dance that I asked her if she could teach us both. Aparna was a kid and I was 30 then. She agreed, and since then, we have been visiting India for four months every year to observe and learn from her.”

Ragamala Dance Company will be performing Sacred Earth at 7 pm at Krishna Gana Sabha, today.


Ragamala Dance casts an artful spell in Power Center performance
Susan Isaacs Nisbett, The Ann Arbos News
August 25, 2013
Original article


It is autumn for the 6 women dancers on stage, adorned in pleated silks of russet and gold, scarlet, olive and saffron. But there are flowers in their hair, and there is nothing autumnal about the hour-long “Sacred Earth,” presented by Minneapolis-based Ragamala Dance Wednesday at Power Center by the University Musical Society. On the contrary, it’s joy and serenity—the very opposite of fading light and waning days—that radiate from these exquisite dancers, trained and performing in the style of Indian classical dance known as bharatanatyam.

The dancers of Ragamala, directed by 2 of the 6, mother and daughter Ranee and Aparna Ramaswamy, who also choreographed “Sacred Earth,” dance with every fiber of their bodies, from the top down and to the tips of their fingers. Eyes dart, teeth flash, bells jangle at their ankles, feet and hands are tinted red to read all the more vividly.

They are pictures of grace and balance, centered and upright, but also supple in their movement. And they dance in harmony with, well “Sacred Earth,” revealed here through Tamil poetry, tribal Indian art and live music.

Bharatanatyam is traditionally a solo art, but in “Sacred Earth” the Ramaswamys artfully employ an ensemble—not just to echo and amplify the movements of soloists (the two of them plus Ashwini Ramaswamy and Tamara Nadel), but to mesmerize through unison movement and accumulation of gestures.

In the opening, the ensemble circles Ranee Ramaswamy, rice powder streaming from their outstretched hands as she crouches at their center, making a rice-powder design on the floor, an offering to Mother Earth. It would have been nice to see that pattern projected on the backdrop, but what is there instead—projections of chalked wall paintings commissioned from a Warli artist from western India, Anil Chaitya Vangad —seems the very incarnation of the dance’s theme of harmony between the elements of nature and all who inhabit it, human and animal.

Stick-figure humans spiral across the space in expanding arcs at the dance’s beginning. Trees of life spring up, monkeys climb them; rivers flow, fish swim; horses graze and are groomed; birds nest among grasses and whole villages materialize against smoke and mauve skies.

The dancers bring these pictures—and those of the poems, with their metaphors of love and nature—to life in narrative sections of the dance; the excellent musicians (Lalit Subramanian, Suchitra Sairam, Rajna Swaminathan and Anjna Swaminathan) contribute their voices with expressive melismatic singing, and with violin, tabla and cymbals. They follow and lead and call out the rhythms in the animated pure-dance sections that showcase the dancers’ technical skills.

Aparna Ramaswamy made a particularly strong impression with her vivacity and precision and musicality, but all the dancers—as befits a dance about harmony—worked together with a sort of luminous sympathy that was itself a meditation.


Dancers bring worldwide flair to audience
Susan Broili, The Herald Sun
July 16, 2012

The American Dance Festival’s fifth week had an international flavor when Israel’s Vertigo Dance Company and Ragamala Dance came to town.

The Minneapolis-based Ragamala Dance proves that tradition can be transplanted. Their performance offers an Indian feast for the ears and eyes. Vocalist and musicians sit onstage as their melodic, meditative sounds begin the 90-minute “Sacred Earth” and sets the mood of ritual and centuries-old traditions. Breathtakingly beautiful backdrops of landscapes, ocean and fantastical trees where birds perch and monkeys swing add to the exotic atmosphere. Anil Chaitya Vangad created these paintings in the Warli style, a craft his family has practiced for three generations. The art, music and South Indian classical dance form of Bharatanatyam make this performance a rich, cultural experience.

This dance begins with a ritual practiced each morning in southwestern India by women who make rice flour designs on the ground as offerings to Mother Earth. Dancers release rice flour in circular patterns on the stage floor. When they finish, they squat, knees out to the side, and press hands together in prayer.

The entire dance has a reverent quality that honors the earth. Dancers make planting motions, smoothing the ground, casting seeds. At one point, a dancer’s down-turned finger motions suggest rain.

Dancing alternates between sculptural poses and embodiment of rhythms. When dancers stamp their feet, their ankle bells jingle. One soloist uses her feet to duplicate each intricate, changing rhythm of the drums.

Even though it is based in Minneapolis, this company represents a long Indian tradition since half of its members come directly from that culture. There’s Ranee Ramaswamy, who founded the company in 1992, and her daughter Aparna Ramaswamy, who both serve as artistic directors as well as dance, and another daughter, Ashwini Ramaswamy, a dancer. They are joined by a disciple of many years, Tamara Nadel.

In addition to the inclusion of two U.S. dancers relatively new to this art form, Jessica Fiala and Amanda Dlouhy, students of Aparna and Ranee Ramaswamy, this company also adds some other modern aspects. While musicians’ instruments include the traditional nattuvangam, a set of cymbals, there’s also a Western instrument – the violin.


ADF Presents Ragamala's Beautiful Sacred Earth
Kate Dobbs Ariail, Classical Voice of North Carolina
July 10, 2012
Original article


Ragamala, a South Indian Bharatanatyam dance company from Minneapolis, turns the Reynolds Theater stage into a mesmerizing village in Sacred Earth, for the company’s first American Dance Festival appearance. The six female dancers are accompanied by a four-person orchestra, which includes a rich-voiced Carnatic singer. The beautiful program will repeat on July 11 and 12.

Ragamala was founded 20 years ago by Ranee Ramaswamy (she and daughter Aparna are co-artistic directors and soloists; another daughter Ashwini is also a soloist), but the ancient forms of Bharatanatyam dance, with its expansive language of gesture and movement, developed in south India over centuries before the Indian diaspora cast it up in such an unlikely new home as Minnesota. Bharatanatyam can seem surprisingly modern, and here the production’s video backdrop component keeps us aware of the 21st century. Drawings in the Warli style by Anil Chaitya Vangad, white on dark grounds, are projected onto backdrops and sheer scrims. Motifs include trees of life, rivers, rice fields, and village rituals, all arranged with relaxed symmetry and many including circular or spiral patterning. Sacred Earth utilizes, and draws imagery from, Tamil Sangam poetry (300 BCE-300 CE). An English version of these fragments is conveniently provided in the program, and intermittently, the texts are spoken in English, as well as being sung in their original language, accompanied by nattuvangam, mridangam and violin. The rhythm is steady, rising and falling like breathing, and the dancers add high and low sounds to the mix with their gentle stamping and the shimmer of their ankle bells.

For many people from Western cultures, the way in to Indian classical dance is through color, and the glories of silk pleated, wrapped and draped over the dancers’ bodies. Certainly, those are important components of the spectacle. In Sacred Earth, each dancer wears a very similar costume, but each has her own color, ranging through the golden and red earth tones, with one the green of rivers and distant mountains. The rich silks are given even greater depth by the way their pleats and folds move and reflect the light differently from their taut expanses, and the colors are further augmented by the red-stained decorations of the bejeweled dancers’ feet, fingers and palms. Although the dancers are almost completely covered, their shapes are well-defined and smoothed into sensuous curves.

Sacred Earth begins with a long, pleasing ritual spreading of rice flour upon the earth. Kolam is a practice of women in southeastern India, who begin each day marking out a pale design, an offering to the Earth Mother, outside their doors. This stage version was designed by Ranee Ramaswamy. In it, five dancers quietly arrange their white flour drawings on the black stage floor, turning around them as they begin to spiral. In the center of their circle, a sixth dancer does the same, a wheel within a wheel. The designs eventually meld into circles within a circle, which becomes the dance ground.

As the dance develops, the storytelling strengths of Bharatanatyam become evident. Even if you’ve never seen any Indian classical dance, you will find some of the gestures immediately clear, and here the use of poetry and painting makes gesture interpretation generally easy (although I’m certain there are levels and levels beyond the easy one). As the evening goes on, this complex art’s many elements — music, rhythm, song, story, poem, prayer, gesture, motion, image, light, color — meld, like “Earth and pouring rain/Mingled/Beyond Parting."


Ragamala's multimedia "Sacred Earth" draws from ancient art forms
Sheila Regan, Twin Cities Daily Planet
September 21, 2011
Original article


This weekend Ragamala Dance takes the stage at the Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts with a gorgeous collage of Indian folk art customs, Ancient Indian poetry, a live South Indian orchestra, and fantastic dancing. The multimedia show incorporates two ritualistic forms of visual art traditionally practiced by women in different parts of India explores the sacredness of nature and is a visual feast.

The two forms of visual art that are used in the show include Warli paintings by Warli folk artist Anil Chaitya Vangad and a stage covered with kolams, created by the dancers themselves.

Ragamala’s Co-Artistic Director Ranee Ramaswamy, who was awarded the 2011 McKnight Distinguished Artist award this year, was born in South India, and first learned to draw kolams when she was a child, when her mother taught her how to draw them on the kitchen floor. “It teaches you patience,” she says of the practice. “What you are learning is concentration.”

Kolams are made each day, first thing in the morning outside of a person’s home, Ramaswamy says. Made with rice flour, the designs offer a welcome and invoke a sacred space, and are eaten away throughout the day by birds and insects. The ephemeral nature of the artwork symbolizes that “things of beauty don’t last forever,” Ramaswamy says. The drawings are celebratory, and in some way announce what is happening inside the house. When no kolam appears outside of the house, Ramaswamy says, that means there has been a death in the family, or the woman of the house is having her period.

In the show, the dancers ritually spread rice flour across the stage. As they dance, they spread the powder across the stage, and it becomes at matted palette onto which Jeff Bartlett’s lights create beautiful effects. They also draw Kolams directly onto the the stage, so that the floor itself becomes a work of art. 

The other visual art form represented in the show comes from the Warli people in western India. The Warli make the wall paintings on the inside wall of their huts, made with earth materials and cow dung, painted over with white pigment. Though the Warli paintings are traditionally made by women, in recent years men have learned the art form as well, and it is generally men who have gone outside of villages to share the form as interest in the paintings has grown.

One such artist is Anil Chaitya Vangad, who Ramaswamy visited last year at his village outside of Bombay. The people in the village, she says, live off the land, and lead a very simple life. The artist created 3 paintings for the performance, one of which is in the lobby on display and the other two which have been photgraphed and are projected onto screens (with video work by Perimeter Productions). Vangad’s paintings, seen blown up across the entire backdrop of the stage, are enormously elaborate, telling the story of the daily life of a village. The final image of his painting, that of a tree, is simply awe-inspiring.  

In addition to the visual art elements of the show, Ragamala’s performance also utilizes an ancient Indian poetry that takes as its subject 5 different landscapes- desert, mountain, field, seashore and forest, according to Ramaswamy.

The poems are translated into English and heard as voiceovers in between the sections. They are also set to Southern Indian Classical music that evokes the emotion of each of the landscapes through the different scale progressions. The music ranges from somber to very lively and particularly noteworthy is the vocal work of Lalit Subramanian. 

While the dance vocabulary for all of the pieces is classical Bharatanatyam, used in all of Ragamala’s work, the dance pieces are informed by both the visual art and musical and poetry elements, Ramaswamy says.

The dancers, who include soloists Ranee Ramasamy and Aparna Ramaswamy, are each individually precise and full of flair, but what is most admirable about the production is the way that the choreography moves throughout the space, with incredible flow and rhythm that seems effortless as the dancers weave in and out of the entrances, between each other, moving like pendulums like a living organism.