Ragamala performs classical Indian dance show on Tuesday
Published: Thursday, September 27, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, September 26, 2012 at 2:37 p.m.
Ragamala Dance brings classical Indian concert dance to Gainesville on Tuesday with the original, full-length work, “Sacred Earth.”
The performance begins at 7:30 p.m. at the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.
Based in Minneapolis, Ragamala Dance devotes itself strictly to Bharatanatyam Indian dance, which is the oldest codified dance system in the world.
Ranee Ramaswamy founded the company 20 years ago and co-directs Ragamala with her daughter, Aparna Ramaswamy. Aparna also choreographs and performs as principal dancer.
In 2010, Aparna became the first Bharatanatyam dancer to be named among Dance Magazine's annual “25 to Watch.” The magazine called her “a marvel of buoyant agility and sculptural clarity”.
In its review of Ragamala's Kennedy Center engagement, The New York Times deemed Aparna “an enchantingly beautiful dancer.”
She and her mother Ranee — who was recently nominated to be on the National Council on the Arts by President Obama — conceived and choreographed “Sacred Earth” together.
Aparna describes the dance work as “an exploration of the inter-connectedness between man and nature.”
“My mother and I were inspired by two ritualistic, ephemeral (visual art) traditions of India,” she says. “One is kolams, which are designs Indian women create with rice outside the threshold of the home, as an interior reflection of what is happening in the interior. The other is Warli painting. These are large-scale paintings, on walls, depicting man, nature and the elements.
“We were fascinated between this balance between the internal and the external,” she adds. “We also found similar inspiration in sangam poetry. These ancient poems are very brief, like haikus. We found in them beautiful descriptions of man's emotional states, using natural imagery.”
As a production, “Sacred Earth” incorporates these three Indian arts — sangam poetry, Warli painting and kolam — directly on the stage.
“We dancers use the kolams onstage, and for the audience, very large Warli paintings are projected on the scrim as well as used on backdrops,” says Aparna, who also performs in “Sacred Earth.”
Sangam poetry is sung by the three-person musical ensemble that shares the stage with Ragamala's six dancers.
The music for “Sacred Earth” is a commissioned score, 75 minutes in length, by Indian composer Prema Ramamurthy.
“Indian music uses hundreds of melodic modes, or ragas,” says Aparna. “Co-director Ranee Ramaswamy and I selected different ragas that were appropriate for the moods of each section of the dance work.”
Raga is the root of the dance company's own name, and is combined with mala, which Aparna says means “garland.” She translates the dance company's name as “a garland of melodies.”
Traditional Indian dance music differs from common Western forms in substantial ways, she says.
“Musically, we often set in 4/4 time and a base of counting in eight, but we very often work in three, five, six, seven and nine as well. Also, the style of music has a certain amount of structure, but [leaves] a great deal of room for improvisation. The mark of a great musician of this style is the ability to improvise masterfully. Of course, this being dance, once the music is improvised to a certain amount, the composition is then set, for the dancers.”
The score's vocals are the sangam poetry. In addition to forming the lyrics, English translations of the sangam poems are printed in the program and read aloud to introduce different sections of “Sacred Earth.”
These sections, set in different landscapes, tell a love story. Transporting the audience through mountains, forest, the seaside and farmland, “Sacred Earth” depicts lovers who meet, separate and then finally reunite.
“These poems were written 2,000 years ago,” Apara says. “But it is interesting to me that they are all about the human experience; not the divine. ‘Sacred Earth' first opens with a scene of the goddess of prosperity, who is the consort to Vishnu. But from there it is really about human emotion, human life. And the art forms, though ancient, are rich with information about how people lived long ago, and how so much is still relevant.”
Sarah Maze can be reached at email@example.com.