See Chicago Dance - A 2019 resolution that’s easy to keep

Lauren Warnecke
December 29, 2018
Original Article

A note from Lynn Shapiro:

To The Dance Community, Its Dedicated Audience Members, and All Our Readers:

For the past five years, I have had the privilege of serving as editor and dance writer for See Chicago Dance. At this time, I am stepping down from my role as editor. This will give me more time to spend with family, including new grandchildren, and to devote myself more fully to my work as a visual artist. I will continue to write for See Chicago Dance, but with a less demanding schedule. 

I wish to thank the staff and board of See Chicago Dance for giving me the opportunity to serve as editor. I also want to thank my fellow dance writers with whom I have had the pleasure of collaborating, exchanging ideas, and striving together to further the craft and art of dance writing.

Among the many blessings my life has given me is the opportunity to stay connected to dance, a lifelong passion, first as a dancer and choreographer, then as a teacher, and currently as a dance writer. 

I am happy to pass along the editor’s baton to my colleague, Lauren Warnecke, whose leadership and expertise promise to enhance everything we do at See Chicago Dance to support dance in Chicago.

Please join me in wishing her well as we launch another exciting year of dance in our fair city. 

Wishing you all a happy, healthy, dance-filled 2019!

In 2012, I got a call from Sid Smith. Sid was still writing for the Chicago Tribune, and he and Laura Molzahn were the only writers at I was asked to supplement the April coverage on the site, a particularly busy month for dance in Chicago – one we now designate as Chicago Dance Month. I wrote my very first professional review on River North Dance Chicago’s “Havana Blue” at the Auditorium Theatre.

Submitting that first review to Sid was terrifying, his noon deadline crippling, but I was instantly in love with the process. When Sid retired and Laura stepped into his role at the Tribune, I was lucky to be able to continue writing for See Chicago Dance under Vicki Crane and then Lynn Shapiro, who have both taught me so much about dance writing.

As I now step into this role as the editor of See Chicago Dance, I’m humbly aware of the big shoes I have to fill, and exceedingly grateful to Lynn for steering this ship for the last five years. She’s had to deal with me, after all (no easy task) and has maintained a steadfast commitment to communicating her deep passion for dance through writing. I’m glad to know her important voice will continue to be part of See Chicago Dance as a senior writer, so we may continue to benefit from her decades of experience seeing and writing about dance in Chicago.

We also have some exciting changes ahead, namely the addition of two new writers, Jordan Kunkel and Brianna Heath, which will allow us to increase the depth and breadth of our coverage here at See Chicago Dance. A hearty welcome to them both, and now onto this month’s Critic’s Picks!

January used to be a rather quiet month for dance, a hibernation period before the onslaught of big touring companies coming through town in February and March. Indeed, a resolution to see more dance in Chicago won’t be hard to keep, with a number of exciting events approaching to keep your dance card filled through the depths of winter. 

RE|dance group, photo by Matthew Gregory HollisCelebrating its 10th anniversary this season, RE|dance group premieres new work at Hamlin Park Jan. 10-18. The “R” and the “E” of RE|dance, executive director Lucy Riner and artistic director Michael Estanich, have maintained a unique long distance artistic relationship across state lines for a decade, churning out gobs of long form works. Two companion pieces, “What Love Looks Like” and “The Biggest Wail from the Bottom of my Heart,” reflect on current events – rallying a call to political activism and imagining a world in which people of all classes and creeds are accepted equally. In his usual way, Estanich frames this within a beautiful, fantastical world, dancing an undoubtedly winding and satifying path through clouds and forest glades.

Sharing RE|dance’s opening weekend is Ragamala Dance Company’s “Written in Water,” Jan. 11 and 12 at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance. This Twin Cities-based Bharatanatyam company recently marked its 25th anniversary, with mother-daughter team Ranee and Aparna Ramaswamy developing an aesthetic uniquely tailored to their experiences as first and second-generation Indian-Americans. For “Written in Water,” the choreographers drew from ancient Sufi texts and the Indian board game Paramapadam (the premise of which Milton Bradley used to create Chutes and Ladders) to generate movement, all set to live music and a stunning visual landscape by V. Keshav of Chennai, India.

Finally, acclaimed choreographer Donald Byrd and his Seattle-based company, Spectrum Dance Theater, return to the Dance Center Jan. 31-Feb. 2 for the first time since a tour in the 1994-95 season. Frequent visitors to the Dance Center will find Byrd’s palate pleasing; his “Rambunctious Iteration #3 – The Immigrants” is a relatively crisp and clean modern dance set to an enticing score by composers from countries historically or currently at odds with the United States, namely Cuba, Mexico, Russia, China and Iran.

The National - Written in Water: A Moving Tribute to India's Bhakti & Sufi Movements

Jennifer Gnana looks back on her journey loving and learning Bharatanatyam, a Tamil classical dance form
Jennifer Gnana, The National
March 23, 2018
Original Article

Watching Written in Water, choreographed by the Minnesota-based Raagmala dance troupe at New York University - Abu Dhabi’s Arts Centre last night took me back in time. Bharatanatyam - a classical Tamil dance and the subcontinent’s oldest has been my long-abiding love and the performance reminded me of my own journey of re-discovering this most graceful art form.

I tied my first salangai (anklets) - worn by Indian classical dancers to perform intricate footwork to match a vocalist’s beats - at the age of four. I was always the quirky one on stage. Short and skinny, with hair like a little boy, I cut an odd figure. Backstage, makeup artists struggled to attach the jadai (braided hair extensions) to my sparse hair and eventually settled to pinning a strand of jasmine to the crown of my head. Unlike the elegant dancers, draped in silk, making them appear like apsaras (godly nymph-like dancers of Hindu mythology), with their bodies set to hour-glass perfection according to the sensibilities of centuries of Indian aesthetic, I had an ungainly gait, with no amount of padded fabric helping me achieve celestial perfection. However, despite my lack of stage glamour, I gave myself over to dance and for all my visible flaws, remained a dedicated student.

However, our move to Bahrain at the age of eight put a slow end to my learning. My mother and I worried about finding a good teacher and though I performed on stage for a couple of years, I gave it up for lack of training. The salangai remained in my room and there were days I would open the box, kiss the anklets and put them back with a sigh. I grew out of my silk dancer’s clothes and they remained in the cupboard, a relic of my childhood.

However, my move to Dubai last year renewed my search for a good teacher and I started lessons again, only to give up when my work as a journalist took up much of my time.

This is why sat in the audience last night, watching the mother-daughter duo perform with their troupe made me realise it was never too late to learn.

Ranee Ramaswamy, 65, founded the dance academy when she was 40 having earlier given up the dance form when she to moved to the US, as she was expected to focus on her family.

Trained under the iconic dancer Alarmel Valli in Chennai, Ranee and her daughter Aparna, 41, now manage a team that performs across the US, UK, the UAE as well as India. Both Ranee and Aparna are not just background managers but actually perform in all their shows. Watching them last night, moving to a beautiful meld of Iraqi, jazz and Carnatic (southern Indian) music by composer Amir El Saffar was an absolute treat.

The Carnatic musician's rendition perfectly yielded to Amir’s trumpet, and soft, moving vocals in Arabic. It warmed me to see the audience clap in between various segments, which was unusual for me as back in Tamil Nadu (India’s southern-most state), a Bharatanatyam performance is a sober event, performed as a prayer dance and treated very reverentially by the audience. Tamils, by nature remain conservative when it comes to safeguarding their culture and as a result Bharatanatyam remains one of the most guarded dance forms, very rarely, if ever allowing innovations on stage. What Ranee and Aparna have done is keep form at its purest, while allowing the Sufi music to lend to one of our greatest dances a truly global connect.

My most moving moment of the night came towards the end when the Carnatic vocalist ended the performance by singing in Tamil, “Anaithum neeye, anaithin porulum neeye”, which translated means “Everything is you, the meaning of everything and matter is you.” A line, straight out of the Bhakti and Sufi movements that characterised 15th century subcontinent, making sweeping changes to the dogmatic nature of religion and marking the emergence of India as one of the most spiritual places on earth.

Between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Tamil-speaking regions saw a slow movement towards devotional worship on the essence of God. Brushing aside centuries of puritanical Hinduism, the devotees of what is now called the Bhakti (devotion) movement immersed themselves in song and poetry, often sung in local languages in contrast to worship that used largely Sanskrit - a language incomprehensible to the common man and used only by Hindu clergy. The Bhakti devotees took their ideas northward only to meet, with the arrival of Islam in the subcontinent, the Sufi mystics of the northern plains. The amalgamation of their ideas gave birth some of the most beautiful poetry in Urdu - a language that grew from the mixing of khariboli, the lingua franca of northern India and Persian, the language of the Mughal courts. It also led to the birth of Sikhism, a religion that embraces aspects of the subcontinent’s diverse Hindu faiths with Islamic tenets.

Until the 19th century, performance of Bharatanatyam remained restricted to temples. Written in Water. Courtesy New York University Abu Dhabi

Yesterday’s performance was a beautiful synthesis of the Bhakti and Sufi movements and made me realise how much we could leverage art, even those guarded by purists by allowing it to match the rhythm of our times.

Last week, after watching an eighties Tamil film Sindhu Bhairavi about a fallen Carnatic musician, who finds his groove, I messaged my Bharatanatyam teacher saying I was thinking of coming back to class. In the film, the reformed musician finds himself back on stage and sings an invocation to Kalaivani, the Tamil word for Goddess Lakshmi, the patron of arts (kalai) in Hindu tradition. “I want dance to this, I want to come back,” I had texted her.

On my way out of the NYU arts centre auditorium, with anaithum neeye ringing in my ears, I decided it was time to wear my salangai again. I was going back.

danceviewtimes - Steeped in Tradition

“Written in Water” by Ragamala Dance Company at the Terrace Theater, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, DC

Arielle Ostry, danceviewtimes
Nov 3, 2018
Original Article

In “Written in Water,” a menagerie of talented dancers, musicians, and visual artworks joined together and intermingled to perform a sonically extravagant and visually alluring show. Ranee and Aparna Ramaswamy, the mother-daughter duo responsible for Ragamala Dance Company’s artistic direction, were informed by tradition and compelled by innovation to create a masterpiece respecting the sanctity of the present, exploring the boundaries of their culture, and celebrating beauty the in their journey. This show’s DC premiere last weekend at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theatre was intimate and charming, presenting a variety of dynamic movements and melodies.

“Written in Water” focuses mainly on the individual journey of each dancer to achieve union with the divine. This theme is portrayed by a human-sized version of the traditional Indian board game Paramapadam, which Americans may more easily recognize as Snakes and Ladders. Each of the five dancers performed separate movement to start, making the beginning of the show a lot to take in with an array of different colors, rhythms, and movement phrases. All of the dancers employed a wide range of performance qualities from teasing and playful to serious and mournful. These emotions were most clearly exemplified by the clarity and decisiveness prevalent in their facial expressions.

Under the direction of Ranee and Aparna Ramaswamy, Ragamala Dance Company practices the South Indian classical dance form, Bharatanatyam, which was originally performed as a solo dance, and has since evolved. Mother and daughter diverge from the customary to bring Bharatanatyam to the stage in a dramatic group format. A highlight of “Written in Water” is the company’s incredible unison execution. Each dancer’s body retains consistent alignment, from the tip of each figure to the diagonal, perched placement of each heel, their rhythmic stomping and stilted jumps ideally synched, showing their confidence and exactness with every step.

Very few are able to perform Bharatanatyam quite like Ranee and Aparna Ramaswamy. Both mother and daughter were taught the classic dance form by legendary dancer and choreographer Alarmél Valli in Chennai, India. Their refined ability and control over the dance style were clearly shown throughout the performance during bouts of gestural storytelling, utilizing intricate hand gestures and distinct expressions to convey the story. They moved their hands in a variety of different ways, with shimmying shakes, energetic, rigid lotus positions, and waving ripples, which made their hands look more like reflections in water than real solid flesh.

The performance was broken up into three sections to frame a story inspired by “The Conference of the Birds,” a Sufi epic poem that details an expedition traveling through various human states of being, the ultimate goal being a unity with the divine. Segments of the show were punctuated by moments where the dancers left the stage completely, continuing on their journey while the musicians alone entertained the crowd with complex beats interlaced with hints of jazzy improvisation and impressive traditional vocals rolling effortlessly off of Preethy Mahesh's trained tongue. The composition itself was developed by Amir ElSaffar and Prema Ramamurthy, specifically for “Written in Water,” in collaboration with Ranee Ramaswamy and the rest of the musical ensemble. Additionally, artwork depicting various human and animal forms as well as abstract, spiraling shapes were incorporated into the show through projections on the floor and on a skrim backdrop. They were created by V. Keshav, a Chennai-based painter, and Nathan Christopher.

“Written in Water” was as dynamic as it was refined, and as bold as it was enlightening. Each dancer performed with such surety and ease, making the show a beautiful, engaging spectacle full of warmth and light, celebrating both the cultural philosophy from which this work took shape as well as the dance itself.

The Washington Post - Ragamala Elevates Snakes and Ladders

Dance Company Ragamala Elevates Snakes and Ladders to Spiritual Heights

Celia Wren, The Washington Post
Nov 1, 2018
Original Article

Hear the phrase “board-game-inspired movement” and you might think of a flourish with a chess piece, or a jubilant reach to place a Scrabble tile on a triple-word-score square. But the Ragamala Dance Company had more substantial physicality in mind for “Written in Water”: The sensory-rich, idea-steeped work, which will be performed at the Kennedy Center this weekend, reflects, in part, a historical Indian version of the game Snakes and Ladders.

“Written in Water,” choreographed by co-artistic directors (and mother and daughter) Ranee and Aparna Ramaswamy, riffs on the conceptual and philosophical framework of Paramapadam, an Indian game whose players risk serpentine plunges while trying to ascend to a board’s winning squares. Ranee and Aparna will be among the five dancers in the roughly hour-long work, which showcases the classical Indian dance style Bharatanatyam.

During “Written in Water,” illustrated-grid projections on the stage sometimes make the dancers appear to be pieces on a Paramapadam board. The illusion is infused with meaning, because the Indian snakes-and-ladders game — of which Paramapadam is one version — incorporates a morality-tale dynamic: The board’s upper squares symbolize spiritual enlightenment and union with the divine, while the lower squares correspond to vices and spiritual degradation. Ascending ladders and downward-propelling snakes provide shortcuts.

The Indian game has existed in various religious and regional variants over the centuries. The pastime traveled to England during the British Raj, eventually evolving to become the secular entertainment (a.k.a. Chutes and Ladders) many of us played as youngsters. (Before each “Written in Water” performance, you can play Paramapadam in the Kennedy Center atrium.)

Ranee Ramaswamy, who grew up in Chennai, in southern India, learned to play Paramapadam as a child. Raised in the Hindu tradition, she knew the game as a particularly popular diversion during religious festivals, with children and adults playing together. One version of the game board referenced the god Vishnu; another, the god Shiva. “Playing the game, we also learned about our own mythological stories,” Ranee said by phone from Minneapolis, where the dance company is based.

Aparna said that when she and her mother began mulling a dance based on Paramapadam, the idea seemed accessible and “rich with possibilities.” The game’s spiritual-journey framework made them think of other cultural lenses on mystical experience, such as a Hindu story about the churning of the cosmic ocean and the 12th-century Persian Sufi poem “The Conference of the Birds,” about an avian search for an elusive monarch. Both narratives became additional thematic springboards for “Written in Water,” which exemplifies the Ragamala Dance practice of treating Bharatanatyam, in Aparna’s words, as an art form that is “alive and contemporary and growing.”

The resonance of “Conference of the Birds” prompted the Ramaswamys to contact Iraqi American jazz artist Amir ElSaffar, who, in addition to playing the trumpet and santur (a hammered dulcimer), is adept in Maqam, a classical vocal tradition that draws on musical traditions from Iraq’s neighbors, as well as traditions within Iraq. He wrote parts of the “Written in Water” score, and he leads an ensemble providing live accompaniment for “Written in Water” performances. (India-based composer Prema Ramamurthy composed other sections, consisting of southern Indian music.)

Folding Maqam and Persian literature into “Written in Water” might seem a bold move in an era leery of cultural appropriation. But Ranee Ramaswamy says the company took pains to make the work’s multicultural strands knowledgeable, respectful and “correct.”

Besides, she says, “cultures have some commonality. And if we hold on to that, we can make magic.”

Broadway World Review - Ragamala Dance Company's Written in Water

Ragamala Dance Company's WRITTEN IN WATER at the Kennedy Center

Sam Abney, Broadway World
Nov 3, 2018
Original Article

Just because a work is new doesn't mean that it isn't able to honor the classic sources that paved the way for its creation. This idea is underscored in the Ragamala Dance Company's elegant and well-executed performance of Written in Water, which relies on the ancient Indian board game Paramapadam (a precursor to Snakes and Ladders) and Hindu mythology to craft the performance's three movements. Even though the performance could benefit from more dynamic shifts in tonality, the overall effect is gorgeous and precise.

Written in Water is a dance show in three movements. The first (and my personal favorite) explores our journey through life through the game Paramapadam. A giant game board is projected under the dancers which helps to underscore the constant climbing of ladders and succumbing to snakes through the movement. In the second movement, the dancers explore the human quest for the divine while underscoring the chaos that surrounds. Finally, we reach the journey toward transcendence in the third movement. The movements can often blend together tonally but thankfully the first and third movements are stronger than the middle movement, allowing the show to begin and end on truly high notes.

With a five-person company, the production often feels like there are many more than that on stage at any given time. All five dancers, led by Ranee Ramaswamy and Aparna Ramaswamy, work well with one another-complimenting each other's moves throughout the performance. Even while executing similar moves, all five ladies flow through their actions in distinct ways which helps provide an additional layer of depth to the performance. Toward the beginning of the first movement and at the top of the second, the action drags a little as movements appear to become more repetitive. Thankfully, the show breaks this cycle before it is bogged down for too long-allowing for the avoidance of some missteps.

Some of the evening's success can surely be attributed to the skillful musicians who accompany the dancers throughout. Preethy Mahesh anchors the majority of the vocals for the performance, and she does so beautifully. Every note she sings is filled with beautiful emotion and helps to craft a more cohesive narrative for the performance. Similarly, Amir ElSaffar lends his own stunning vocals for the evening, often emulating a sound that seems to land somewhere between classic Arabic music and jazz tunes.

The rest of the instrumentalists are quite impressive as well. Arun Ramamurthy is a dutiful violinist who serves as the backbone for the small music ensemble on stage. On the mridangam (a percussion instrument), Rohan Krishnamurthy does excellent work with providing intensity to the performance. All of the instruments are anchored by two stellar standouts. Kasi Aysola lends his skills for rhythmic recitation (nattuvangam) to the evening-leading to one of the performative highlights during a particularly fast-paced and frantic section at the end of the second movement. Amir ElSaffar also demonstrates his ability to steal the show through an impressive trumpet solo at the first movement's conclusion.

Overall, the production's designs are executed well. The visual art displayed throughout the night, provided by V. Keshav and Nathan Christopher, help to illustrate the action being performed. Many elements are projected on the floor to give the dancers more graphic areas to move on (such as an actual game board) which provides an interesting element. Unfortunately, it seems like more harsh lighting is then used to avoid having the projections displayed upon the dancers themselves, which often washes out the dancers and their costumes during the evening. All in all, Jeff Bartlett has skillfully designed the lighting. But many of the brighter sections lose some of the beauty of the show's other aspects.

Written in Water isn't the kind of show that requires extensive knowledge or appreciation of dance to grasp. Much of the performance's effectiveness rests on the ability for the audience to understand the emotions being portrayed on stage. This show doesn't ask for you to understand every movement on stage-but instead to feel the emotions from the performance wash over you. And, sometimes, that's the most powerful kind of production.

Democrat-Gazette - Written in Water: Incredibly Emotionally Evocative

‘Written in Water’ looks at spirituality, mythology and more

Lara Jo Hightower, Democrat-Gazette
October 7, 2018
Original Article

The Ragalama Dance Company, says co-artistic director Aparna Ramaswamy, uses the ancient Indian form of dance called Bharatanatyam "as a language to explore universal themes." The company is bringing its production of "Written in Water," performed with live music, to the Walton Arts Center Stage on Oct. 14.

The wildly creative and expressive production that evolves from the company was called "a soulful, imaginative and rhythmically contagious collaboration ... startlingly seamless and marvelously danceable" in The New York Times.

The 26-year-old company, based in Minneapolis, is a family affair: It was founded by Ramaswamy's mother, first-generation Indian-American artist Ranee Ramaswamy, who now serves as co-artistic director. The company also includes Ramaswamy's sister, Ashwini.

Ramaswamy says adhering to the 2,000-year-old Bharatanatyam tradition takes thorough understanding and research.

"Our works are very evolved and extensive in their scope," says Ramaswamy. "We work to find all the original lyrics. We work with different composers from different cities, different countries. We fund-raise to create the music. It doesn't happen in one year -- it's a multi-year endeavor. We're working on several pieces at one time at this moment and touring three other works."

"Written in Water" is based on the ancient Indian game Paramapadan, which, over the centuries, evolved into the popular children's game Americans know as "Chutes and Ladders."

"Indian families would stay up all night and fast and play this game in order to teach their children about negative and positive energies of humans," says Ramaswamy. "It's a very multidisciplinary approach to discussing spirituality and mythology and religion. The idea of this game was fascinating to us in terms of all of the potential for this content, the underpinnings of the history and the psychology of the idea of humans traveling towards something and experiencing different aspects of life as they did so.

The show also pulls inspiration from the 12th century Sufi text "The Conference of the Birds" and the Hindu story "Ksheerabthi Madanam."

"As the dancers -- or players -- move through the board ... the nuances of the motions that go along with each situation are explored. The last piece is that we explore an Indian myth about the churning of the ocean."

The performance clearly offers a heaping helping of history, literature and mythology, but Ramaswamy says potential audience members should not fear the challenge; she promises audiences will find the show accessible.

"I do think dance is intimidating for a lot of audiences," she acknowledges. "I think people feel like they can intellectually grasp the narrative of theater or the accessibility of music. I think with dance, people feel they need to understand more of the technicality of dance, so I think [that perception] is a challenge.

"The thing is, dance can be enjoyed in the same ways as the other art forms. It can be incredibly emotionally evocative. You're seeing wonderful physical expressions ... these emotions of longing or love or sadness, and all of these shades and hues are related to the words and music. Together, it forms this really beautiful, genuine communication with the audience."

Star Tribune Review - Body, the Shrine

Ramaswamy family brings nuance, mood to Ragamala Dance Company's 25th anniversary show
Review: Ragamala Dance Company celebrated its golden anniversary with a new piece honoring Indian poets. 

Caroline Palmer, Star Tribune
April 27, 2018
Original Article

Ranee Ramaswamy once had a simple goal — to share the classical Indian dance form Bharatanatyam with Minnesota audiences.

Twenty-five years later, her Ragamala Dance Company, which she directs in partnership with daughter Aparna Ramaswamy, has far surpassed its modest beginnings and now enjoys international acclaim. On Thursday night Ragamala celebrated the world premiere of “Body, the Shrine” at the Cowles Center by demonstrating yet again why the troupe is so vital to the Twin Cities dance scene.

“Body, the Shrine” represents a first in Ragamala’s history. Senior company dancer Ashwini Ramaswamy joined her mother and sister in choreographing the evening-length work, which features sections created and taught to them by their guru, Alarmél Valli. They were inspired by the Bhakti Movement, a transformational religious and literary era in India, with roots dating back to the 6th century.

“Bhakti” is a Sanskrit term defined as both “devotion” and “participation.” Ragamala’s homage reveres the male and female poets whose soaring words contrasted with times of protest, conflict and violence. The Ramaswamys, as well as company members Tamara Nadel and Jessica Fiala, wear vibrant red, orange, blue and green traditional costumes, and this colorful energy carries over to the evocative vocals and music (drums and violin) performed live by Preethy Mahesh, C.K. Vasudevan, Sakthivel Muruganantham and Ramanathan Kalaiarasan.

The Ramaswamys each bring different moods to the work, as evidenced in solos and duets. Ranee’s “Vazhi Maraittirukkude” (choreographed by Valli) is about persistence, referencing not only an untouchable’s desire to glimpse a deity but also 19th-century hopes for independence from Britain. Ranee illustrates her challenging quest through flowing hand gestures and gently entreating stances.

With “Call Him to Me,” Aparna embodies the symbiotic relationship between nature and the divine, owning the stage with her exquisite precision and attention to the tiniest detail of expression. When she and Ashwini perform “Shankara Sri Giri” (choreographed by Valli with staging by the sisters) as an ode to cosmic rhythms, they not only present breathtaking synchronized movement but also the sort of unspoken communication so unique to family.

The program quotes Maharaja Swathi Thirunal, a 19th-century king of the southern Indian state of Kerala who also was a composer. “If you dance and sing, then it is indeed Heaven,” he said. And if so, then there’s a slice of heaven to be found in “Body, the Shrine.”


CBS Minnesota - Mother, Daughters Celebrate 25 Years Of Ragamala Dance Company

Mother, Daughters Celebrate 25 Years Of Ragamala Dance Company
Ali Lucia, CBS Minnesota
April 24, 2018
Original Article

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minneapolis-based Ragamala Dance Company is set to celebrate its 25th anniversary season with the world premiere of “Body, the Shrine.”

In this milestone year, Ashwini Ramaswamy joins her mother, Ranee Ramaswamy, and sister, Aparna Ramaswamy, in an intergenerational partnership to create a one of a kind work.

“It’s an art form. It has rhythm, it has body movements, it has facial expressions. It’s almost like being an actor,” Ranee said, describing the dance. “It’s almost like being an actor but also dancing with it.”

Ranee is the co-artist director along with her daughter Aparna.

“I always say I go to work with my children. I think every parent wants to have their children with them for a long time and I am blessed every single day,” Ranee said.

It’s an art form she has been practicing since she was 7 years old in India. Then her daughter Aparna expressed that same passion at the same age. Together the two traveled back and forth to India, visiting family and staying dedicated to dance, learning from one of the best teachers in the world: Alarmel Valli.

The company’s work explores the tension between the ancestral and the personal.  For the first time Ranee will create a piece not just with her daughter Aparna, but with Ashwini as well.  The three have been practicing for hours as they prepare for the world premiere of “Body, the Shrine.”

“It eliminates the idea that the divine lives within us. If we choose to dedicate ourselves to someone or something, and not within a particular structure, and idea it does exist with ourselves,” Apara said.

“It’s a very intricate style of dance that you have to learn for a lifetime, and you’ll still never be an expert,” Ashwini said, adding this particular performance is special as it really allows her to reflect on her heritage. “Even though I was born in the United States I travel to India often, these kinds of experiences and learning about history is more of what I’m looking for with this work.”

The commitment to their craft as taken them all over the world and their mother says she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I’m tremendously happy and I think I want to keep doing this forever, because if my kids were not there I probably wouldn’t have that,” Ranee said.

If you are interested in attending the performance this weekend, tickets are $25.  There are performances this upcoming Thursday and Friday.  All performances at the Cowles Center are accompanied by a musical ensemble from South India.

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.