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

www.clcperformingarts.com.

"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.