Dance that will move the depths of your soul...This is much more than just entertainment. It is universal ritual, revival, regeneration. You are rarely likely to get so much for the price of admission to see this. Donâ€™t think twice about it â€¦ book to see Ragamalaâ€™s Yathra now.
Edinburgh Festival, Aug 12, 2009
The Southern Theater, Minneapolis, MN
April 30-May 3, 2009
Reviewed by Linda Shapiro
Ragamala Dance Theater's Sthree expands the boundaries of Bharata Natyam, the classical form from South India, by amplifying its supple gestures and sculpted shapes into a richly evocative dance drama. Based on the ancient Tamil epic "Silappathikaram: The Tale of the Anklet," the 90-minute work, with text by Zaraawar Mistry, explores love, loyalty, retribution, and karma. In the end, characters get what they deserve, and sometimes what they desire.
A filigree of arm and hand gestures, expressive mudras reinforced by intricate rhythms and pliant postures, tells this powerful tale. Under the direction of Ranee and Aparna Ramaswamy, the dancers render Bharata Natyam's ancient gestural code, a spirited and spiritual language that speaks directly to the gods, both lucid and exuberant. Characters emerge from a female chorus that refracts and enlarges the emotions of the protagonists. Coalescing into one multifarious being, these women can be fierce or fragile, stately or ebullient, spiritual or erotic. Sometimes they embody natural forces and dramatic events: flowing rivers, harrowing journeys, even a conflagration.
While shape-shifting abounds in Sthree, it's the way in which these dancers alter the very textures of their bodies from moment to moment-the way they thicken, sharpen, attenuate, and refine the highly inflected vocabulary of Bharata Natyam-that best captures the protean spirit of the dance form.
The convoluted plot centers around the tragedy that befalls two young lovers, Kannagi and Kovalan, because of infidelity and an ill-omened anklet. Intriguingly, several characters are played by two or more dancers-an inspired choice for a work about karma and reincarnation. This shift of personnel creates multi-dimensional portraits. Played by Tamara Nadel, the besotted Kannagi displays a winsome eagerness and sexual awakening. (She and Kovalan are described as "snakes coupling in the heat of passion.") Played by Ranee Ramaswamy, she is older and wiser, a loyal and forgiving wife who is also capable of fiery vengeance (after her husband's wrongful execution, she tears off one breast and orders a city burned).
Madhavi, the courtesan who enraptures Kovalan, is danced throughout by Aparna Ramaswamy. A marvel of buoyant agility and sculptural clarity, she shoots off sparklers of sassy, sensual movement with a rhythmic twang suggestive of Scarlet O'Hara tossing off a "fiddlededee" to the world. Later, repentant, she tamps down the flames to a burnished glow of transcendence.
The original music (score by L. Subramaniam, lyrics by Prema Ramamurthy) heightens the drama and mystery, especially Ramamurthy's gritty, slippery vocals. The narrative by Mistry (who also directed) admirably condenses this poem of more than 5,000 lines into a lush, if occasionally overwrought, narrative. In a sublime coda the women, worshippers in the temple of Pattini (the goddess Kannagi has become), collectively draw an intricate design or kolam on the stage floor. This Mandela-like pattern sums up the meticulous care with which the production (exquisitely lighted by Jeff Bartlett) evolves and involves its audience.
DANCE MAGAZINE, June 2009
The ancient Indian dance form of Bharatanatyam started in the temples â€“ so it seems fitting to see it performed in a place of worship. The fact that beautiful dancer Aparna Ramaswamy is paying homage to a different god than the one ordinarily praised in St John's merely adds to the diversity of the Festival of Spirituality.
â€œRamaswamy knows Bharatanatyam inside and out, completely absorbing herself in the movement. The gold silk of her costume blends with the ornate surroundings, while her intricate eye and hand gestures juxtapose with the enormity of the architecture. Her solo is followed by a more gentle work by her mother before we hear the energetic drumming of superb Japanese duo, Tokara. The elements combine in a contemporary ensemble piece Sva, featuring all Ragamala dancers and both drummers. A dramatic finish"
The Scotsman, August 21st, 2008
The performers are masters of their art. They exude energy from every molecule of their body â€“ it surges from every fingertip,eyelash and strand of hairâ€¦.This may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Catch them while you can. If you donâ€™t, youâ€™ll probably either live to regret it or probably never know what youâ€™ve missed. I donâ€™t know which is worse.
The Fringe Review, August 21st, 2008
An entertaining, at times sublime, dance exhibition.
Time Out New York
Sethu was a multi-layered and stunningly beautiful collaboration...it attracted a diverse, joyous audience of nearly 6,000 people over two nights....I attribute the spirit of selfless collaboration...to your remarkable
abilities and vision."
Philip Bither, Senior Curator Performing Arts, Walker Art Center, Minnepolis.
Ragamala astounds audiences with works that expand one's perceptions of dance, cross-cultural collaboration, and spiritual meaning.
Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE
It was a beautiful performance that exceeded our expectations (which were already high). The company was wonderful to work with. Beautiful show!
Jennifer Hinners, Arts and Events Coordinator - UW-Eau Claire
The program was beautiful. The audience that was in attendance saw a very professional show.
Bonnie L. Jordan, Event Director - Community Civic Center
If the Big Apple has its Shakespeare in the Park and Lincoln Center festivals, the Mini Apple has Walker Art Center's occasional series of outdoor performances in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.
In previous years, the local slate of theatrical dance performances has included memorable outings by Liz Lerman's Dance Exchange, which performed its "Hallelujah" project in a gentle drizzle, and the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company, which had a gorgeous, live collaboration with jazz contralto Cassandra Wilson in June 2003.
This year, the ringleader of thrills was Twin Cities choreographer and teacher Ranee Ramaswamy, the foremost exponent of the classical Indian dance style known as bharatanatyam. Ramaswamy gathered a company of dancers, gamelan musicians, a chorus of monkey chanters and Carnatic singer Nirmala Rajaseka for "Sethu (Bridge)." A terrific spectacle, the show offered a torch-lit retelling of the Ramayana, a 2nd-century epic poem.
In this sacred Indian text, god-king Rama rescues his wife, Sita, from a 10-headed force of evil. Rama is helped by the Monkey-King named Hanuman.
It is easy to lose focus and intimacy in outdoor concerts, where distractions -- airplanes, bugs, bats, bees -- abound.
On Saturday, at least, everything seemed to come together at twilight in the Sculpture Garden. Even the birds seemed to perform on cue. In the middle of the performance by gorgeously costumed dancers, a flock of geese flew over the proceedings, their white undersides undulating in the light above the stage.
The dancers performed in front of a large, controlled fire, their faces and bodies lit with intensity. The monkey chorus, all men who performed in a Balinese chanting style known as kecak, were an impressive presence if a bit one-note. Still, they played a nice role ushering the dancers on and off the stage with their "cak-cak" chants.
Surprisingly, I was still able, at about 100 feet from the stage, to see many of the subtle facial expressions of the dancers, some of whom were cast opposite their gender. Aparna Ramaswamy, one of the most gifted dancers in any form in the Twin Cities, was electric and highly expressive as Rama, while Tamara Nadel was stalwart as Rama's brother, Laksmana. Kats Fukasawa, who has a face more elastic than a rubber chicken, was compelling as the wicked enchanter, Ravana.
One of the highlights of the evening was I Dewa Berata Putu, the Indonesian composer and performer who was fleet-footed and visually fetching as the grinning monkey king.
The success of "Sethu" evoked a few thoughts. For one, surely not all those thousands of people could see the dancing eyebrows of Aparna Ramaswamy. A Jumbotron could be used to highlight the performers. Also, we could use more of these events. Perhaps the expanded Walker Art Center, which commissioned the show, could program a few more.
And finally, it was such joy to see a company of international collaborators meet in Minneapolis, plan a massive project and then, so beautifully, rise to the occasion.
SETHU Review - Minneapolis Star Tribune
Ragamala met a very important cultural need in our community.
Mariah Rumford, Special Events Coordinator - Lake-Sumter Community College
This program presented an excellent blend of traditional and contemporary Indian dance. The company is wonderful, particularly with regard to residency activities; appealed to a very diverse age group.
Brad Knauss, Assistant Director of Marketing - The Lied Center of Kansas
The artistic merit was extremely high. Master class dance students were applauding after each demonstration. Performance was superb. Dancers transformed into animated virtuosos with the start of each selection.
Patrick Whelan, Deputy Director - Cherokee Heritage Center
The Ragamala/Bly performance was â€œgreat art.? The audience was awestruck and responded warmly, and appreciatively, with a standing ovation. The most frequent comment I heard was the performance was â€œthe best thing ever seen at the Arrowhead Center for the Arts.? Ranee Ramaswamyâ€™s workshops brought together history culture, religion, myth, in addition to dance. She communicates tolerance, understanding and graciousness and really awakened people in our community to her countryâ€™s culture.
Virginia Reiner, Interim Director - Grand Marais Arts Colony, Arrowhead Center for the Arts
I recommend Ragamala without any reservations. They are fully professional, extremely talented and very sensitive to audiences and presenters. Ranee Ramaswamy and company captivated both teachers & artists during summer workshop and enchanted pre K - grade 9 students in performance.
Maureen Gallagher, Assistant Coordinator - Arts are Basic