Ragamala Dance Company: Totally unique

Ragamala co-artistic director, choreographer and principal dancer Aparna Ramaswamy in Song of the Jasmine.

Ragamala Dance Company, the Minnesota-based outfit which performed Jan. 31 at Clowes Hall, is an entity like no other. Five dancers, five musicians transported us into a world of mysticism where faith and fortune fold into serenity and sensuousness.

Song of the Jasmine, their new collaboration with jazz musician Rudresh Mahanthappa, retells an 8th century tale of a young girl, Andal, whose complete devotion to the God Krishna consumes her life. She abjures all others and ultimately finds release within his ethereal embrace of her steadfast love.

Ragamala's retelling of the story fuses the ancient and the modern, bringing together the traditions of classical India and modern jazz. As the dancing unfolded in unison with the music, there was a lush feel of a child’s pop-up book, with layers upon layers of things happening within each other.

And like Dorothy’s observation about Oz, “My, but people come and go quickly here,” dancers appeared and disappeared with the blink of an eye. You dared not look away for fear of missing a sequence. The dancers used hand gestures, body alignment, footwork, facial expressions, constantly changing relationships to each other, to relate the story of Andal. Their grace and fluidity was as absorbing as is Andal’s devotion to Krishna.

The ecstatic musical interlude between two sets of dancing featured jazz-like licks by players weaving in and out of ensemble playing. With only a set of bells hanging chandelier-like on one side of the stage and the five musicians assembled on the other side, the company of dancers brought forth a mirage of scenes through movement and facial expression.

Aparna Amaswamy, Ranee Ramaswamy, Ashwini Ramaswamy, Tamara Nadel and Jessica Fiala created the exceptional dancing. The musical ensemble included Rudresh Mahanthappa, alto saxophone and composer, Rez Abbasi, guitar, Rajna Swaminathan, mridangam, Raman Kalyan, Carnatic flute and Anjna Swabinathan, Carnatic violin. Jeff Bartlett created the light design.

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