MPR News - Art Hounds: Brooklyn Rider joins Ragamala Dance at The O'Shaughnessy

Brooklyn Rider string quartet and Ragamala Dance share the stage this Friday at The O'Shaughnessy in St. Paul.

APRIL 11, 2019
Original Article

Dancer Dana Kassel is headed to The O'Shaughnessy to see Ragamala Dance and Brooklyn Rider. To be clear, Ragamala Dance is not performing to the music of Brooklyn Rider. Instead, each will perform for half of the evening on the same stage. Kassel says the two groups have more in common than one might think — both are taking classical forms and reinterpreting them for a contemporary audience. The performance takes place on Friday at 7:30 p.m.

Longtime language teacher Jim Peterson recommends checking out MotionArt's new show. It's called "Collabulous" because it features multiple "fabulous collaborations" with other local artists, including painter Edward Bock and composer Bruce Wintervold. Peterson says the dancers, who range from professional to lifelong hobbyists, span multiple generations and bring refreshing energy to the stage. "Collabulous" runs Friday through Sunday at the Howard Conn Fine Arts Center in Minneapolis.

Writer Jean Sramek is a big fan of "Gag Me with a Spoon," a monthly community story share at Teatro Zuccone in downtown Duluth. It's an evening of stories that range from funny to tragic to downright weird. Sramek says the audience is incredibly supportive, and the performance is a reminder of all the stories we each carry with us. "Gag Me with a Spoon" hits the stage next on Sunday from 7 to 9 p.m.

City Pages - A List 4.10

Check out all the great things happening this week in the Twin Cities.

APRIL 10, 2019
Original Article

FRIDAY 4.12

Contempo Physical Dance
The Cowles Center

Contempo Physical Dance, a group that fuses Afro-Brazilian, capoeira, and contemporary forms, presents two pieces at the Cowles Center. One is the world premiere of “Lágrima Fora do Lugar (Tear Out of Place),” a new solo choreographed and performed by artistic director Marciano Silva Dos Santos. For that work, Dos Santos conducted research in Brazil, interviewing quilombolas, Afro-Brazilian residents of the quilombo settlements first established by escaped slaves in Brazil. He also draws inspiration from a book by Brazilian actress and author Suely Bispo, whose voice makes up part of a sound composition by Divan Gattamorta. “SenZalma,” which debuted in 2014, takes its title from the word “senzalas,” which means “slave quarters,” and “alma,” the word for “soul.” Inspired by the poem “O Navio Negreiro (The Slave Ship)” by 19th-century Brazilian abolitionist Antonio de Castro Alves, the piece uses symbolic gestures to evoke this awful part of Brazil’s history. 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. $20-$28. 528 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis; 612-206-3600. Through Saturday —Sheila Regan

Ragamala Dance Company and Brooklyn Rider
O’Shaughnessy Auditorium

Here’s how classical lives on in contemporary art. For tonight’s performance at the O’Shaughnessy, string quartet Brooklyn Rider, first introduced to us by Liquid Music, will reimagine the restorative properties of classical music with “Healing Modes,” based on compositions by Beethoven and five contemporary women composers. Then Ashwini Ramaswamy leads her troupe, Ragamala Dance Company, in a new work she created. Titled “Nocturne,” the piece utilizes the classical Indian dance form Bharatanatyam to reimagine the relationships between the human, natural, and metaphysical migrations that occur at night. 7:30 p.m. $34. 2004 Randolph Ave., St. Paul; 651-690-6700. —Camille LeFevre

Tiki Weekend Spring Kickoff
Du Nord Craft Spirits

It’s spring in Minnesota. That means one day we might get slushy snow, the next it will be sunny and bikeable. All of that is better than what we had last month, so let’s celebrate. This weekend, Du Nord is hosting a staycation in Minneapolis. They’ll be busting out a rum they’ve saved for this party, and will mix it into fancy tiki drinks. Food trucks will stop by each day. Potter’s Pasties and Pies is scheduled for Friday, and singer-songwriter James Rone will play tunes that evening. The patio will be open all weekend, and spring attire is encouraged. 4 p.m. to midnight Friday; noon to midnight Saturday. 2610 32nd St. E., Minneapolis; 612-799-9166. Also Saturday —Jessica Armbruster

MinnPost - Forget the Snow

Choreograph your spring and summer around these 11 dance performances

APRIL 10, 2019
Original Article

The picks

Tonight (Wednesday, April 10) at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival: “Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin.” A loving and illuminating biography of the great fantasy/science fiction writer and creator of Earthsea. Director Arwen Curry combines narrative, interviews, and animation to explore Le Guin’s life, work, and expansive imagination. Interviews with authors including Margaret Atwood, Michael Chabon and Neil Gaiman hint at her profound influence. 9:45 p.m. Also Friday at 4:30 p.m. and Saturday at 2:30 p.m. FMI including trailer, times and tickets ($15/11/8).

Friday at Mixed Blood Theatre: Double Sided: A Literary Reading. This sold out long ago, but turnbacks happen, and April snowstorms, so you never know. Jana Shortal will host a literary evening with rapper, singer and essayist Dessa, poet Donte Collins, science writer Maggie Ryan Sanford and writer and performer Shane Hawley, with a mystery musical guest. 7:30 p.m. FMI. 612-338-6131.

Friday at the O’Shaughnessy: Ragamala Dance Company and Brooklyn Rider: A Shared Evening. The Bharatanatyam dance ensemble and the string quartet won’t perform together. But they know and respect each other, and they feel they are similar in aesthetic mission, so they’re doing a split-bill evening. Ragamala’s co-artistic director Aparna Ramaswamy explained, “We both use family as an incubator to absorb and re-create our artistic lineage” and “we both believe our respective mediums are not museum pieces.” We recently saw another split-bill evening, BRKFST Dance Company and Kaleena Miller Dance at the Cowles, and it worked brilliantly. 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets (adult $34; other pricing available).

Saturday: Record Store Day. Looking at the list of indie record stores taking part in this year’s Record Store Day, we see several that have hung on for decades, through vinyl and 8-tracks, cassettes, CDs and back to vinyl again, through Napster and torrents and what’s been called the collapse of the music industry in the first decade of the 2000s, to the consolidation and homogenization of radio and the rise of streaming. And, for Electric Fetus, the 35W construction. Talk about resilience. Raise a tonearm or your vintage Walkman to the Fetus, Know Name, Down in the Valley, Homestead Pickin’ Parlor, Hymies,  Roadrunner and Cheapo as you shop for your chosen RSD exclusive releases. Maybe you’ll come home with the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s “The Spiritual” from 1974. Or Bob Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks – Original New York Test Pressing.” Or Aretha Franklin’s “The Atlantic Singles 1967.” Or (wow!) “John Cage Meets Sun Ra” on 7″ vinyl and DVD. Not all stores will carry all releases, but you already know that. FMI.

Saturday at Orchestra Hall: Minnesota Orchestra: “Inside the Classics: Amy Beach – American Pioneer.” Sarah Hicks conducts and violist Sam Bergman hosts a program about the first American woman to compose a symphony. The first half will explore the life, technique and legacy of Beach (1867-1944), with excerpts performed by the orchestra. The second half will be Beach’s complete “Gaelic Symphony,” which the orchestra last performed in 1917. On Tuesday, Bergman tweeted, in part: “If you’re someone who, like me, thinks orchestras need to be doing more concerts that get away from the same fifteen dead white male composers, this is the kind of show we NEED you to buy tickets for.” He’s right, you know. 8 p.m. FMI and tickets ($20-50).

Star Tribune - Nine Things to Do This Week

9 things to do this week: Record Store Day, Southside Johnny, Ragamala Dance, more

APRIL 8, 2019
Original Article

Indian dance and classical music, reimagined

Ragamala Dance Company and chamber ensemble Brooklyn Rider take old forms and spin them in new and magnificent ways. Now the two groups share an evening. Brooklyn Rider offers its fresh take on Beethoven’s Opus 132 along with five new commissions by female composers. Ragamala breathes new life into the South Indian dance form Bharatanatyam; with “Nocturne,” Ashwini Ramaswamy threads the personal and the divine with her choreography of a post-twilight journey. -Sheila Regan

7:30 p.m. Fri. The O’Shaughnessy, St. Paul. $34, 651-690-6700.

Pioneer Press - Spring Arts Preview

Choreograph your spring and summer around these 11 dance performances

APRIL 5, 2019
Original Article

Be the moves traditional Indian, Brazilian, on stage or on ice, it’s a fascinating season for dance. Here are 11 performances well worth catching. More spring/summer events.

Ragamala Dance Company and Brooklyn Rider

April 12: There was a time not so very long ago when one of the most interesting and innovative string quartets in classical music, Brooklyn Rider, hosted a summer festival in Stillwater to which they brought international masters like Swedish soprano Anne Sofie von Otter and banjoist Bela Fleck. Now the group is back, this time performing alongside and apart from the always mesmerizing traditional Indian dance troupe Ragamala. 7:30 p.m.; the O’Shaughnessy, St. Catherine University, 2004 Randolph Ave., St. Paul; $34-$30; 651-698-6700 or oshag.stkate.edu.

Contempo Physical Dance

April 12-13: One of the pieces that put choreographer Marciano Silva dos Santos and his Twin Cities troupe on the map was “SenZalma.” It was an ideal creation for the company, which is devoted to finding a place where dances of the African diaspora, Afro-Brazilian culture and the modern dance medium find commonality. In this case, “SenZalma” is inspired by a poem by 19th-century Brazilian abolitionist Antonio de Castro Alves called “The Slave Ship,” and it expresses asserting one’s humanity in an environment that denies it. 7:30 p.m.; Goodale Theater, the Cowles Center, 528 Hennepin Ave., Mpls.; $28-$20; 612-206-3600 or thecowlescenter.org.

David Rousseve/Reality

David Rousseve and Reality (Courtesy photo)

April 13: One of America’s most exciting dance artists is David Rousseve, a visionary who creates works that explore a world divided by skin color, sexuality and economics. But Rousseve and his Los Angeles-based company, Reality, always find a way to deeply involve you in his dance works. Here, the troupe will perform “Halfway to Dawn,” inspired by the life and work of jazz composer Billy Strayhorn, a shy gay man who wrote many of Duke Ellington’s most famous tunes. 7:30 p.m.; Northrop Auditorium, 84 Church St. S.E., Mpls.; $47-$19; 612-624-2345 or Northrop.umn.edu.

Shapiro & Smith Dance

April 19-20: It’s been 20 years since this Minneapolis-based modern dance company premiered “Notes from a Séance,” a piece that builds off the conflict between two early 20th-century women with different takes on spirituality and the people who become their followers. In this tale of hypocrisy, hysteria and hypnotism, choreographer Joanie Smith’s imagination will doubtless shine through. 8 p.m.; Goodale Theater, the Cowles Center; $29-$25; 612-206-3600 or thecowlescenter.org.

Le Patin Libre and Brownbody

Le Patin Libre (Courtesy photo)

April 25 and 27: Figure skating has always had the potential to be an art form that expands well beyond the strict parameters of Olympic competitions. The members of Montreal’s Le Patin Libre do just that, creating modern dance on skates on the frozen rivers and rinks of their home city. They’ll perform “Vertical Influences” here, in tandem with local figure skating modern dance troupe Brownbody offering excerpts from a new work, “Tracing Steps.” 4 p.m. (Brownbody), 6 and 8:30 p.m. (Le Patin Libre) April 25, Anderson Ice Arena, Breck School, 4210 Olson Memorial Highway, Golden Valley; 3 p.m. (Le Patin Libre), 5 p.m. (Brownbody) and 7:30 p.m. (Le Patin Libre) April 27, Charles M. Schulz Highland Arena, 800 S. Snelling Ave., St. Paul;  $30.50-$17.50; 612-624-2345 or Northrop.umn.edu.

Candy Box Festival

April 29-May 4: Hats off to Arena Dances for putting together this annual mini-festival of local modern dance troupes with complementary — yet quite different — visions. This year, it features the April Sellers Dance Collective, Chris Schlichting and Darrius Strong’s STRONGmovement. While they’ll each perform Thursday through Saturday, there’s much more to Candy Box. Such as early-evening happy hour performances of works-in-progress at 5:30 Monday through Friday by Brenna Mosser Dance Works, Blake Nellis, Non Edwards, Arena Dances and Taja Will. And daytime workshops for dancers. Sellers, Schlichting and Strong: 7:30 p.m. May 2 and 3, 2 and 7:30 p.m. May 4; Southern Theater, 1425 Washington Ave. S., Mpls.; $20-$12; arena-dances.org.

TU Dance

May 3-5: To celebrate its 15th season at the O’Shaughnessy, St. Paul modern dance ensemble TU Dance will pay tribute to artists who have inspired its artistic directors, Uri Sands and Toni Pierce-Sands. Among them are Jawole Willa Jo Zollar of Urban Bush Women, whose “Walking with Pearl … Africa Diaries” will performed, as will Ron K. Brown’s “Where the Light Shines Through,” featuring a Cuban jazz score. 8 p.m. May 3 and 4, 2 p.m. May 5; the O’Shaughnessy; $34-$20; 651-698-6700 or oshag.stkate.edu.

Mixtape

May 10-12: If you want to get a sense of what’s brewing in the local hip-hop dance scene, “Mixtape” is always a good place to start. A kind of curated forum for street artists, it will feature the most interesting artists that such local hip-hop standouts as Al Taw’am, Herbert Johnson III, Joelle Fernandez, Darrius Strong and J-Sun have discovered lately. Expect some breaking, krump, house and new jack swing. 7:30 p.m. May 10 and 11, 2 p.m. May 12; Goodale Theater, the Cowles Center; $25-$22; 612-206-3600 or thecowlescenter.org.

Derek Hough

May 17: What do you do for an encore once you’ve been the champion for six seasons of “Dancing with the Stars”? Well, Derek Hough has stopped competing on that show, but he still likes to show off his fancy footwork periodically. He’s out on a solo tour, demonstrating his athletic, graceful way with ballroom, tap, hip-hop and salsa. Choreographing the show with him are Napoleon and Tabitha Dumo, or NappyTabs, who have worked with Michael Jackson and Jennifer Lopez. 8 p.m.; State Theatre, 805 Hennepin Ave., Mpls.; $85-$59.50; 800-982-2787 or hennepintheatretrust.org.

Flying Foot Forum’s ‘Heaven’

June 7-23: For his latest choreographic creation, Flying Foot Forum’s Joe Chvala takes for inspiration the story of a photographer in 1990s Bosnia trying to save the life of his translator’s wife. It will feature the music of local Bosnian party band Orkestar Bez Ime, as well as original music by Suburbs co-founder Chan Poling. There will be plenty of dancing … but also singing and speaking. 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; Park Square Theatre Proscenium Stage, 20 W. Seventh Place, St. Paul; $27-$16; 651-291-7005 or parksquaretheatre.org.

Zenon Dance Company’s final performances

June 13-16:Maybe not all great things come to an end, but one that will is the marvelous modern dance company that Linda Z. Andrews founded 36 years ago. Zenon has decided to disband, but not before a weekend of final performances that will feature a different program every night of dance introduced to local audiences by Zenon. 7:30 p.m. June 13-15, 2 p.m. June 16; Goodale Theater, Cowles Center; $100-$34; 612-206-3600 or thecowlescenter.org.

Dance Magazine - 3 Concerts, 2 Musicals and 1 Festival You Won’t Want to Miss This April

3 Concerts, 2 Musicals and 1 Festival You Won’t Want to Miss This April

APRIL 5, 2019
Original Article

There are more intriguing performances than one person could possibly see this month, so our editors' picks run the gamut. The topics—Greek mythology and systemic racism, the Ballets Russes and secondary incarceration—are as varied as the styles—contemporary, bharatanatyam, aerial. The one through line: They're bound to make you look at the world a little differently.

Stay Woke

Donald Byrd's SHOT

SEATTLE The violence of racism has long been a subject for Donald Byrd, artistic director of Spectrum Dance Theater. His new Wokeness Festival comprises three segments: 2017's SHOT, about the persistence of police brutality toward black men; Dance, Dance, Dance #2, which includes a nod to Merce Cunningham's centennial in the form of his 1960 work Crises and a new Cunningham-inspired work by Byrd; and the premiere of Byrd's Strange Fruit, which reflects his responses to the Jim Crow Era. The festival also includes community dialogue around issues of racism, gender and justice. April 10–28. spectrumdance.org—Wendy Perron

Only If for a Night

Ashwini Ramaswamy's Nocturne

ST. PAUL, MN String quartet Brooklyn Rider and acclaimed bharatanatyam troupe Ragamala Dance Company share an evening for the latest Women of Substance event at The O'Shaughnessy. The former opens with their "Healing Modes" and a quintet of commissions from women composers; the latter presents Ashwini Ramaswamy's Nocturne, an homage to the enigma of night. April 12. oshag.stkate.edu—Courtney Escoyne

Separation, Suspended

Flyaway Productions

SAN FRANCISCO AND RICHMOND, CA One of the forms of family separation that rarely gets aired in the media is the estrangement between inmates and the women who love them. Jo Kreiter, artistic director of Flyaway Productions, premieres The Wait Room, a site-specific work for six women that explores the emotional toll of these heart-wrenching circumstances. This is a personal piece for Kreiter, who endured "secondary incarceration" for years. Partnering with Oakland-based Essie Justice Group, an organization of women with incarcerated loved ones, Kreiter enlists the help of set designer Sean Riley and composer Pamela Z. San Francisco, April 19–27; Richmond, CA, May 17–18. flyawayproductions.com—WP

When Ancient Was Avant-Garde

NEW YORK CITY Dance's favorite design duo, Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung, are back at Works & Process at the Guggenheim. This time, they're collaborating with New York University's Institute for the Study of the Ancient World for a costume and dance commission responding to ISAW's exhibition "Hymn to Apollo: The Ancient World and the Ballets Russes" (through June 2), using original costumes and designs from Sergei Diaghilev's company as a leaping-off point. April 28–29. guggenheim.org—CE

Oklahoma!

Oklahoma! at St. Ann's Warehouse

NEW YORK CITY Will this fresh revival, direct from its run at St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn last fall, manage to retain its charming, disarming intimacy as it scales up to Broadway? John Heginbotham's choreography (inspired by Agnes de Mille's) will make the transfer, but we have to wonder whether the cast members will still be sharing bowls of chili with the audience at intermission. Opens April 7. oklahomabroadway.com—CE

Hadestown

Hadestown at London's National Theatre

NEW YORK CITY Hades is a factory owner and Persephone is (still) his bitter wife; Eurydice is looking for stability and Orpheus is (still) a talented, if unfor­tu­nate, musician. Greek mythology is scrambled and set to a slinky, soulful score in Hadestown. The David Neumann–choreographed musical opens on Broadway April 17 after its run at London's National Theatre. Whatever you do, don't look back. hadestown.com. —CE

Picture This Post - Review - Delicate Intricacy

Harris Theater presents RAGAMALA DANCE COMPANY Review – Delicate Intricacy

Hayley Ross
January 30, 2019
Original Article

Harris Theater presents Ragamala Dance Company performing Written in Water, classical  Bharatanatyam Indian dance based on the Indian board game Paramapadam, known in the Western world as Snakes and Ladders.

Mother and daughter team and Co-Artistic Directors of Ragamala Dance Company, Ranee Ramaswamy and Aparna Ramaswamy, explain in the program notes that through the lenses of the board game in conjunction with the Sufi text The Conference of the Birds and Hindu mythological story Khseerabthi Madanam, the dance tells the experience of human life, love, and struggle in three movements.

Staying True to Tradition

Although Written in Water, contains many innovative and new age elements such as lighting projections on the floor and backdrop, and live musicians on stage with the dancers, the dance itself is Bharatanatyam, an age-old classical Indian dance form started in Hindu temples. The movements in Bharatanatyam are very delicate, intricate, and small, pairing well with the idea of turning the stage into a real life Paramapadam board. The five dancers glide elegantly across the stage conveying a story using small gestural movements with their hands and tiny, but distinctive, movements of the head and changes in facial expression. Aparna Ramaswamy, is especially mesmerizing with her facial expressions during her group and solo moments. In Bharatanatyam, the dancer’s torsos are always upright focusing the movement on the limbs and head. The Ragamala dancers do an exquisite job of maintaining this posture, always looking poised and calm.

Ranee and Aparna, co-Artistic directors of Ragamala Dance Company said in the post-performance talk back that they pride themselves on their ability to bring what they’ve learned in India with them and carry on this tradition and share it in the United States.

Embodying Music

Written in Water also features a live musical ensemble consisting of a trumpet, violin, vocalists, and Indian instruments santur, mridangam, and nattuvangam. In the post-performance talk back, Amir ElSaffar, who created the composition said that it took over over a year to create the composition for the piece with Ragamala Dance Company, and it shows. There is a masterful pairing of music and dance in this performance.

The dancers wear bells on their ankles which ring and jingle when they step. The musical ensemble’s music matches the dancers movements so well it is as if the music is coming straight from the dancer’s bodies. Each hand gesture and step matches a beat or vocal cue, making the music and dance one entity throughout the performance.

Telling a Story

While this reviewer has never studied Bharatanatyam, and has never played Paramapadam, it is easy to understand the semblance of the story through the dancers and music. The dancers portray sadness and struggle in slower movements and gestures reaching out into the distance for something they can’t attain and joy through faster, more upbeat rhythmic sections of the dance.

Projections on the floor that resemble a cross between a stained glass window and a game board give visual representation to the dancers moving through the game of life. Projections of paintings and other artwork on the backdrop of the stage also speak to the mythological and spiritual themes in the piece, providing the audience with more cultural and contextual understanding.

Written in Water contains a lot of various elements including dance, live music, art, and a story behind the dance. All put together, Ragamala Dance Company presents a beautiful evening of work that reveals something new about Indian dance, culture, and bringing those ideas to new audiences. For more information about upcoming Harris Theater Presents performances visit the Harris Theater Presents website.

Chicago Tribune - Review - Ragamala Dance Harris Theater Debut

In Harris Theater debut, Ragamala Dance shows the metaphor and mythology in a board game — and is pure fun to watch.

Lauren Warnecke, Chicago Tribune
January 12, 2019
Original Article

Founded in 1992, the Twin Cities-based Ragamala Dance Company made its Harris Theater debut Friday with the company’s 25th anniversary performance “Written in Water.” The hour-long work is a multi-disciplinary Bharatanatyam dance blending cultural traditions from India, Iraq and the United States, in an effort to explore the journey toward self-actualization.

The concept of the piece began with mother-daughter co-artistic directors Ranee and Aparna Ramaswamy using Paramapadam, an ancient Indian board game, as a framework for moving about the stage. Paramapadam is considered the precursor to Snakes and Ladders (later marketed in the West by Milton Bradley as Chutes and Ladders), often played — as Ranee explained in Friday’s post-performance discussion — during religious fasts to teach Hindu mythology and distract from the discomforts of fasting.

In the game, players move their pieces across a board of 100 squares, gaining progress by ascending ladders, or losing ground if a player ends his or her turn on a snake. The metaphor is the journey toward spiritual ascension, with ladders representing the virtues and snakes serving as temptations and vice. Stunning projections form the squares of the game board on the Harris Theater stage — best viewed from further back in the house – while the dancers’ winding floor patterns were developed by playing hundreds of games of Paramapadam in which they were the life-sized pieces set on a game board.

It is due to the influence of daughter Aparna Ramaswamy that Ragamala Dance has more recently turned to ancient texts and philosophy to support its artistic work, and “Written in Water” is deeply layered with Hindu and Sufi allegories, namely the 12th century “Conference of the Birds,” and “Ksheerabthi Madanam,” from Hindu mythology. The latter, translating to “the churning of the seven seas,” aligns with the seven valleys traversed in “The Conference of the Birds.”

In each case, the pinnacle of these journeys is transcendence as one navigates one’s interactions with good and evil, with the hopes of consorting with the divine — further paralleled, though perhaps unintentionally, by the snakes and apples in the Judeo-Christian story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, or even Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Whimsical illustrations by cartoonist V. Keshav are projected onto a panel covering the quarter of the stage behind a group of five musicians, tracking with each of the “Conference’s” seven valleys, and it’s the music that really unpacks the congruencies between Indian, Iraqi and American traditions.

Sufi music originating from Persia is, to my knowledge, rarely heard in concert settings such as that of the Harris Theater — Chicago audiences may be more familiar with the sounds of India given the wide variety of Bharatanatyam presented on concert stages here. So what a treat that composers Amir ElSaffar and Prema Ramamurthy have exquisitely, painstakingly layered Sufi musical modes with Carnatic music originating from Southern India (the birthplace of classical Bharatanatyam). ElSaffar and Ramaurthy took approximately three years to develop a score which blends musical traditions that could take a lifetime to fully comprehend.

Accompanying the five dancers, ElSaffar plays santur, a large dulcimer struck with hammers. He also sings, as does Preethy Mahesh, and Ramanathan Kalairasan plays violin. Additional Carnatic instrumentation includes Rohan Krishnamurthy on mridangam, a percussion instrument sounding similar to tabla, and rhythmic recitations called nattuvangam by Kasi Aysola. Further, to this fascinating combination of musical modes ElSaffar adds the distinctly American sound of trumpet, but improvises within Middle Eastern scales and chords. None of this brilliant melding of cultures feels forced or out of place, as how the evolution of today’s society brings cultures together to harmonize — literally and figuratively.

The dancing is more distinctly Bharatanatyam in look and feel, with the dancers’ movement so crisp and precise that even the tiniest flick of a finger is crystal clear from midway back at the Harris. As the matriarch, Ranee is often smartly placed at the center of the group, flanked by her daughters and dancers Tamara Nadel and Jessica Fiala.

It may or may not be an important observation that the cast is entirely female, while Keshav’s illustrations of the story are likely to be interpreted as masculine-oriented. I’ve often found the women’s roles in classical Bharatanatyam to be that of the doting wife, or the longing lover. Contemporary Indian dance, however, has sought to radically change this; by these five women dancing as the protagonists in these ancient stories, “Written in Water” feels satisfyingly akin to this trend.

And while even a surface-level understanding of “Written in Water’s” embedded intellectualism deepens one’s appreciation for it, coursework in Hindu and Sufi philosophy aren’t pre-requisites to enjoying this work. What I mean is: “Written in Water” is not so heady that it evades entertainment, and those of us with no knowledge at all about the cultural and philosophical nuances at play can simply sit back and take in a wholly magnificent piece of live art. Like watching a great film in a language you don’t speak, “Written in Water’s” music is toe-tapping, the context clues universal and the visual atmosphere intoxicating, no matter your background.

Chicago Tribune - Dance in Chicago in 2019: Must See

Must-sees this winter include Akram Khan’s ‘Giselle’ and something brand new at Joffrey

Lauren Warnecke
January 3, 2019
Original Article

Winter used to be a rather dormant time for dance, but in 2019 the colder months bring some of the most exciting dance events of the year. Winter is typically a time when touring companies roll through town, with spring reserved for the locals. But two home-town companies will present world premieres in February. Two extraordinary Indian dance companies, both based in Minneapolis, pay a visit this season, and two companies who’ve not been here in decades join a crowded dance calendar with another celebrating a milestone 50 years of Chicago tours.

Ragamala Dance: Hindu mythology, 12th century Sufi texts and an ancient version of Chutes and Ladders were the inspiration for “Written in Water,” a full-length contemporary Bharatanatyam work navigating good and evil. Mother/daughter choreographers Aparna and Ranee Ramaswamy celebrate 25 years since this Twin Cities-based company’s founding. Jan. 11 at the Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph Drive; tickets $35-$135 at 312-334-7777 and www.harristheaterchicago.org

The Dance Center of Columbia College has a great spring season lined up, beginning with Spectrum Dance Theater Jan. 31-Feb. 2. Director Donald Byrd visits Chicago for the first time in more than 20 years, bringing work inspired by the national debate on immigration. Anaya Dance Theatre performs “Shyamali,” a Bharatanatyam work by dance legend Ananya Chatterjea Feb. 14-16, and Urban Bush Women return to the Dance Center for “Hair & Other Stories,” a dance about economic disparities between races and genders. At the Dance Center, 1306 S. Michigan Ave.; www.dance.colum.edu

Trinity Irish Dance Company gives its first full evening at home in over a decade, a one-night-only performance which boasts two world premieres. From the beginning, artistic director Mark Howard has been pushing a modern, progressive image of Irish dance which put the form on the map years before “Riverdance" fever took hold. Themes for this exciting evening center around female empowerment. Feb 2 at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Ida B. Wells Drive; tickets $29-$78 at 312-341-2300 and www.auditoriumtheatre.org

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Joffrey Ballet of Chicago’s winter mixed-rep moves to April this year, to make way for a world premiere full-length ballet based on Leo Tolstoy’s masterpiece about looking for love in all the wrong places, “Anna Karenina.” The collaborative effort between Joffrey and The Australian Ballet features choreography by Yuri Possokhov, whose rep for Joffrey includes “Bells” and “The Miraculous Mandarin,” and original music by Ilya Demutsky.Feb 13-24 at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Ida B. Wells Drive; tickets $35-$176 at 312-386-8905 and www.joffrey.org

English National Ballet: Akram Khan’s first full-length ballet was a smash hit, a reimagination of the iconic “Giselle” combining ballet and kathak, a form of classical Indian dance. Composer Vincenzo Lamagna’s score plays off the original by Adolphe Adams, performed live by the Chicago Philharmonic in this stunning North American premiere, the company’s first tour to the U.S. in more than three decades. Feb. 28 to March 2 at the Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph Drive; tickets $35-$145 at 312-334-7777 and www.harristheaterchicago.org

Malpaso Dance Company with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago: Choreography by Chicago local Robyn Mineko Williams and Osnel Delgado, artistic director of the Havana-based Malpaso, headline this exciting international collaboration bringing these two beautiful companies together for the first time. Malpaso delighted audiences with their 2017 Chicago debut at the Dance Center; seeing them perform with the silky-smooth dancers of Hubbard Street will likely yield an evening to remember. March 2-3 at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Ida B. Wells Drive; tickets $29-$110 at 312-341-2300 and www.auditoriumtheatre.org

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater celebrates its 60th anniversary with the company’s first two-act work,“Lazarus,” created by hip-hop icon Rennie Harris and inspired by the life of founder Alvin Ailey. Two other programs complete the company’s 50th consecutive year at the Auditorium, with a contemporary program featuring works by Wayne McGregor and Jessica Lang, and a third compiling more than a dozen Ailey classics. Given these choices, I’m thinking you might as well see all three programs. March 6-10 at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Ida B. Wells Drive; tickets $34-$120 at 312-341-2300 and www.auditoriumtheatre.org