A Plus - Ragamala Dance Company

Family Run: The Dance Company Promoting Cultural Diversity Through Unfamiliar Performances
The Ragamala Dance Company sheds "light on the cultural diversity that is the backbone of current human life."
Claire Peltier, A Plus
March 20, 2017
Original Article

Family Run is an original A Plus Lifestyle series: Every month, we profile amazing families who work together in some capacity. From starting businesses, inventing products, collaborating artistically, and beyond, these family members are making positive contributions to the world together, and strengthening their family bonds in the process.

This month, we spoke with the Ramaswamy family, a mother-and-daughter trio running a dance company that promotes cultural diversity through choreography and performance. Ranee Ramaswamy and her daughters, Aparna and Ashwini, aim to connect viewers with the unfamiliar and, thus, create an experience that will move audiences everywhere. 

In 1978, Ranee moved from India to the United States. In 1992, she founded the Ragamala Dance Company and has been running it alongside Aparna and Ashwini for the last 25 years. In addition to their roles as co-artistic directors and PR and marketing director, respectively, they are all performers, too. 

When Ranee founded Ragamala, she and Aparna were "singularly focused on introducing and educating audiences unfamiliar to Indian dance, and showing them how dynamic, complex, yet universal Bharatanatyam could be," Aswini tells A Plus in an email. Bharatanatyam is a classical Indian dance with its origins in the Hindu temples of Tamil Nadu.

"Over the past 25 years, the company has become known for thoughtful yet unexpected artistic partnerships that shed light on the cultural diversity that is the backbone of current human life."

The family believes that their performances can help people of different communities and cultures connect and understand one another. In fact, experiencing this unfamiliarity is a necessity. 

"If a person allows themselves to encounter the unfamiliar, to seek out new experiences, they will contribute to a more tolerant and, ultimately, evolved society. We believe that art is a vital, non-threatening way for people to understand other cultures and perhaps gain empathy for immigrants," Ashwini says. 

"I believe that a lot of the problems that exist in the world stem from being uninformed — from an inability to communicate across boundaries of culture and geography ... Attending performances is a way to stand up against ignorance and intolerance, especially if the performer(s) are from another country or culture. History teaches us how important it is to listen to our artists because they are the ones who put a mirror to society. The art within a civilization is often what lives on."

Aparna adds that their company's work aims to make people feel empowered, and it takes years of thought, research, and reflection to put together one of their projects.  

Through their collaborative efforts and various generational experiences, the family has built a longstanding company — celebrating its 25th anniversary this September — and a unique family bond. 

Of course, working with your family can create disagreements, but such personal issues don't stop these women from accomplishing their goals, Aparna explains. In fact, their different personalities benefit their work. 

"We continue to learn and figure out how to balance our work lives and personal lives, and it all comes down to the fact that we are doing what we love with people we love. That is very special," she adds.

When asked what they admire about each other's work ethic, it's clear that they're all inspired by the tireless commitment and intense passion they share for their art. 

"We learned from our guru [the legendary dancer-choreographer Smt. Alarmél Valli, in Chennai, India] that the art is bigger than us, and we need to respect the lineage we come from," Aparna says. "Practice doesn't just mean doing the same thing day in and day out — it means exploring the depth of poetry, philosophy, musicality, theatricality that is the bedrock Bharatanatyam. There is an ocean of knowledge and we are humbled to only stand at its shores."

As for he future of Ragamala, Ranee believes that if you set your goals, and believe in them, you will get to where you want to be. And she's living proof — her company has performed in top venues throughout America, touring at places like the American Dance Festival, Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center, Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art, and the International Festival of Arts & Ideas, among others. Ranee says she hopes to expand into Europe and South America in the coming years. 

As an added bonus, she can say that she gets to take her children with her to work every day. 

"There is not much more I would wish for, though," she says. "If you told me 25 years ago that I would be where I am today, I would be thrilled!"

Star Tribune Review - Written in Water

Ragamala Dance evokes solidarity with banned immigrants
Sheila Regan, Star Tribune
January 29, 2017
Original Article

"Written in Water," by Ragamala Dance Company, is not intended to be a political work, but the latest actions by our new president make it political. In the piece, which was performed at the Cowles Center this weekend, ancient Hindu and Persian traditions were woven into a fabric that illuminated their similarities and brought out the beauty of each, with music blending Indian and Iraqi sounds with hints of jazz.

In light of President Donald Trump's executive order (which was immediately stayed) banning even those with green cards and valid visas from seven Middle Eastern countries from entering the United States, Ragamala's gesture of collaborative art-making with Middle Eastern aesthetics evoked a meaningful gesture of solidarity with those communities.

A projection of the board game "Snakes and Ladders" grounded the work, literally. Projected onto the floor, cleverly designed by Nathan Christopher, the board game provided a structure on which the dance unfolded. As the piece began, the five dancers appeared to be like live board game pieces, journeying along the board squares, all the while executing the intricate movements of the Bharatanatyam dance form.

Later, the "Snakes and Ladders" board changed into its earlier iteration, the ancient Hindu game of Paramapadam, which, unlike the modern version, is black and white. Meanwhile dancers carried out the emotional journeys that resulted from their moral choices symbolized in the game.

The impassioned moments were contained within the dance's overall precision, even at their most heightened demonstration. A gesture of despair, a body fallen to the ground and hands clenching the face in grief, were all done with absolute control.

Woven into the journey of the board game was imagery drawn from the ancient Sufi poem "The Conference of the Birds," through the choreography as well as a series of colorful paintings by the Chennai-based artist, Keshav. The movement, created by mother and daughter team Ranee and Aparna Ramaswamy, along with choreographic associate Ashwini Ramaswamy (Aparna's sister), conjured the flight of birds through the flourishing movements of the dancers' arms, hands and fingers. The way that the Ramaswamys were able to intertwine the abstraction of the fluttering wings within the tight architecture of the Bharatanatyam form was truly magical.

Big Dance Town Review - Written in Water

Ragamala Dance Company
Caroline Palmer, Big Dance Town
January 29, 2017
Original Article

“Chutes and Ladders” is a familiar childhood game but few who grew up in the west are familiar with its origins. Originally called “Paramapadam,” among other names, the Hindu morality game was first played centuries ago in India, then re-conceptualized as “Snakes and Ladders” during British colonization, and finally given its less evocative title by board game maker Milton Bradley in 1943.

Ragamala Dance Company chose this story as inspiration for their latest full-evening Bharatanatyam work, “Written in Water,” performed this weekend at the Cowles Center. The troupe, led by the mother-daughter team of Ranee and Aparna Ramaswamy, perform what may be the artistic directors’ most artistically daring creations in its 25-year existence.

The dancing takes place amidst projections onto the stage floor depicting the board game, showing different versions from the ancient to the more abstract. There are also beautifully detailed visual images on the backdrop, created by Keshav and Nathan Christopher. The dancers include Ranee and Aparna, plus Ashwini Ramaswamy, Tamara Nadel and Jessica Fiala.

The work came into being as the performers played the game repeatedly, internalizing its messages and exploring possible life metaphors. The Sufi epic “The Conference of Birds” provides a narrative framework. Snakes and ladders can represent everything from fear to transcendence, earth to heaven. The Sufi guidance points the way to life’s balance between good and evil, a tenuous and rarely achieved, yet aspirational, state of being.

Ragamala creations sparkle with crisp, exacting energy and “Written in Water” is no exception. There are unique elements to the movement – a serpentine set to the arms and backs, a rubbing of hands like throwing dice in a game, a sense of sliding and gliding, as if traveling along the back of a snake or a slippery chute.

Ashwini and Aparna represent different aspects of animalistic nature within the work – fierce and vulnerable, wary and carefree. Ranee’s movement offers a sense of steady ethos, she is not easily seduced by the game but she sees the effects of its unpredictability on others. Nadel and Fiala are strong presences as well, steadfast and focused in their precise movement, navigating their way along an uncertain path.

“Written in Water” is built upon a particularly strong partnership of music and movement. A live ensemble led by Iraqi-American jazz performer Amir ElSaffar, and including Preethy Mahesh (vocals), Rohan Krishnamurthy (mridangam – percussion), Anjna Swaminathan (Carnatic violin) and Kai Aysola (nattuvangam – cymbals), fills the space with a kaleidoscopic sound, made particularly vibrant by ElSaffar’s soulful command of the trumpet and santur (Iranian hammered dulcimer). ElSaffar and Prema Ramamurthy’s composition is evocative and particularly poignant for the existential subject matter of the performance.

This creation is yet another fine example of Ragamala’s ever-evolving artistry. As the troupe continues to gain national and international exposure, I am reminded how fortunate we are to have this accomplished company in our midst.

Minn Post Preview - Written in Water

Ragamala's ambitious 'Written in Water' at the Cowles
Pamela Espeland, CBS Minnesota
January 26, 2017
Original Article

Ragamala Dance Company’s new work, “Written in Water,” is its most ambitious yet and potentially most moving and satisfying. Which is saying a lot for a company whose path has been always upward, and whose henna-tipped toes have stepped surely since Ranee Ramaswamy and her daughter Aparna co-founded the company in 1992.

Four years in the making, “Written in Water” combines an ancient Indian board game, a 12th-century Sufi poem, a Hindu myth, an original score melding traditional Iraqi Maqam and Indian Carnatic music, and large-scale projections with the intricate movements and gestural storytelling of Bharatanatyam, the classical Indian dance form the company practices.

It’s a journey through life to enlightenment, told through movement, music and paintings. A reviewer who saw “Written in Water” in Tallahassee, where it had its world premiere, called it “mesmerizing” and raved that the evening “unfolded like a dream.”

“Written in Water” comes to the Cowles this weekend for three performances. We asked Ranee Ramaswamy to walk us through it.

“We have three movements,” she said in conversation earlier this week. “In the first, we explore human life, with love and struggle, through the board game.” The board game is “Paramapadam,” a precursor to “Snakes and Ladders” (itself a precursor to our own “Chutes and Ladders”). In the dance, it’s a metaphor for life’s ups and downs. “The second movement is the story of the churning, dynamic tension between good and evil,” Ranee continued. Its inspiration was the Hindu myth “Ksheerabthi Madanam,” which tells of the churning of the seven seas. It’s a metaphor for a world in chaos. “The final movement is the union with the Divine, toward transcendence,” Ranee said. The epic Sufi poem “The Conference of the Birds,” which frames the entire dance, tells of birds who travel through seven valleys to achieve immortality. Not all of them make it, but some of them do.

Choreographed by Ranee and Aparna, “Written in Water” is danced to live music, an original score commissioned from Iraqi American trumpeter and composer Amir ElSaffar and Indian composer Prema Ramamurthy. ElSaffar, whose performance last year at the Walker was joyous and electrifying, draws on Iraqi Maqam, a vocal tradition included on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list. ElSaffar went to Baghdad to study it from the few remaining living masters. Ramamurthy is one of India’s greatest living composers of Carnatic (South Indian classical) music. Ranee believes this is the first time Maqam and Carnatic have joined in a single work.

The projections – of the board game and other imagery – are original paintings by Keshav Venkatraghavan, an artist based in Chennai, India, also commissioned by Ragamala. The images will be projected on the floor and on a screen. “They take your eyes up, like you’re in a church, cathedral or temple,” Ranee said. She compared them to stained glass windows.

Something else from Ranee to ponder, if you go: “When you write in water, it’s not concrete. It’s something that is constantly changing.”

Performances are at 8 p.m. Friday, 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday afternoon in the Goodale Theater at the Cowles CenterFMI and tickets ($29). Here’s a video excerpt.

Star Tribune Preview - Written in Water

Ancient Indian board game inspires Ragamala Dance Company's "Written in Water"
Sheila Regan, Star Tribune
January 27, 2017
Original Article

 

Ever play Chutes and Ladders as a kid? You probably didn’t know the board game has roots in ancient India. Originally called Paramapadam, this Hindu game of morality was brought to England in the 19th century and renamed Snakes and Ladders. Ragamala Dance Company marries the game’s 2nd-century version with 12th-century Sufi poetry in a new show called “Written in Water.” An exploration of people’s search for truth — and their desperate attempts to avoid human failings — the show unfolds amid a giant game of Paramapadam and large-scale art projections. Also featured is an original commissioned score by Iraqi-American jazz artist Amir ElSaffar. (8 p.m. Fri. & Sat., 2 p.m. Sun., 528 Hennepin Av. S., $29, the Cowles Center, 612-206-3600, thecowlescenter.org.)

Twin Cities Daily Planet - Written in Water

Ragamala Dance Company brings "Written in Water" to the Cowles Center
Twin Cities Daily Planet
January 27, 2017
Original Article


MINNEAPOLIS – Following a successful debut in Tallahassee, Ragamala Dance Company is bringing its newest work, “Written in Water,” to The Cowles Center for Dance & the Performing Arts.

Developed over nearly four years, “Written in Water” is an exploration of the Indian board game “Paramapadam” – an early version of “Snakes and Ladders” – and the 12th century Sufi poem “The Conference of the Birds” – which details a journey through the seven valleys (or states of being) necessary to attain Enlightenment. Both the board game and the text reflect an intricate allegory of the way in which a universal paradigm – that of the seeker on a journey to overcome human failings and find ultimate truth – is experienced within these spiritual traditions.

“Paramapadam was originally invented to impart the consequences of human actions and reveal that some aspects of life are within our control and some are unpredictable,” explained Ashwini Ramaswamy, Director of Marketing and Publicity for Ragamala Dance Company.

Large-scale projections of original paintings by Keshav – a Chennai-based visual artist – and Minneapolis artist Nathan Christopher on the stage and behind the dancers are woven throughout the choreography, as the dancers navigate the game and experience its emotional and philosophical consequences.

“Written in Water” is further punctuated with an original score by Amir ElSaffar – an Iraqi musician known for blending contemporary jazz trumpet and traditional Iraqi Maqam – and Prema Ramamurthy – an Indian composer specializing in traditional Carnatic compositions.

Ramaswamy added, “Each art form and artist was specifically chosen to enhance the work and strengthen the performance as a whole.”

Of “Written in Water,” The Tallahassee Democrat wrote, “The work’s power and the company’s artistry created a lexicon of sound, vision, and movement that allowed each audience member to project their own story onto the stage.”

About Ragamala Dance Company

Under the direction of Ranee Ramaswamy and Aparna Ramaswamy, Ragamala’s work explores the dynamic tension between the ancestral and the personal. As choreographers and performers, Ranee and Aparna create dance landscapes that dwell in opposition – secular and spiritual life, inner and outer worlds, human and natural concerns, rhythm and stillness – to find the transcendence that lies in between. As mother and daughter, each brings her generational experience to the work—the rich traditions, deep philosophical roots and ancestral wisdom of India meeting and merging with the curiosity, openness and creative freedom fostered in the United States.

Now in its 24th season, Ragamala has been hailed by The New York Times as, “soulful, imaginative and rhythmically contagious,” “[Ragamala] showed how Indian forms can provide some of the most transcendent experiences that dance has to offer.” The company has been featured at the American Dance Festival (North Carolina), Lincoln Center (New York), Kennedy Center (Washington, D.C.), Music Center of Los Angeles (California), Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art (Illinois), International Festival of Arts & Ideas (Connecticut), University Musical Society (Michigan), Just Festival (Edinburgh, United Kingdom), Bali Arts Festival (Indonesia), Sri Krishna Gana Sabha (Chennai, India), and National Centre for Performing Arts (Mumbai, India).

About The Cowles Center

The Cowles Center for Dance & the Performing Arts serves as the Twin Cities’ flagship for dance, presenting 20+ productions each season in its historic Shubert Theatre in the heart of Downtown Minneapolis. Furthermore, the Center’s campus includes three performance spaces, education studios, and administrative offices for more than 20 arts and nonprofit organizations – making it a dynamic and vibrant hub for the Twin Cities’ performing arts community and a place where dance can grow and thrive.

At a Glance

WHAT: “Written in Water” presented by Ragamala Dance Company and The Cowles Center for Dance & the Performing Arts

WHERE: The Cowles Center for Dance & the Performing Arts, Goodale Theater, 528 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis, MN 55403

PRICE: $29

TICKETS: www.thecowlescenter.org

DATES:

January 27 at 8 p.m. – Performance will be followed by a Q&A with the performers

January 28 at 8 p.m. – Ragamala’s 24th anniversary gala begins at 5:30 p.m.

January 29 at 2 p.m. – Pre-performance family activities will take place in lobby

CBS Minnesota - Written in Water

Ragamala Dance Company's Newest Piece has limited run at Cowles Center
Katie Fraser, CBS Minnesota
January 26, 2017
Original Article

For one weekend only, audiences in the Twin Cities can see Ragamala Dance Company’s latest work, “Written in Water” at the Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts in downtown Minneapolis.

An allegory of human’s constant search for higher meaning, “Written in Water” takes inspiration from the Indian board game Paramapadam, an early version of Snakes and Ladders, and the 12th century Sufi poem “The Conference of the Birds.”

Both the game and the poem explore what it means to be on a journey seeking higher meaning.

The shows development, which took over four years, includes a myriad of artist elements – including projections of paintings by Chennai-based artist Keshav and Minneapolis artist Nathan Christopher.

The performance also features an original score by Iraqi musician Amir ElSaffar. ElSaffar blends jazz trumpet with traditional Iraqi Maqam to create a sound unique to the show.

“Each art form and artist was specifically chosen to enhance the work and strengthen the performance as a whole,” Ashwini Ramaswamy, director of marketing and publicity for Ragamala Dance Company, said in a recent press release.

“Written in Water” opens at 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 27. There will be an 8 p.m. performance on Saturday, Jan. 28 and a 2 p.m. performance on Sunday, Jan. 29.

Tickets cost $29.

For more information, or to purchase tickets, visit the Cowles Center online.

Why I Dance: Aparna Ramaswamy - Dance Magazine

Why I Dance
Aparna Ramaswamy; Dance Magazine
November 30, 2016
Original Article

Co-artistic director and dancer with Ragamala Dance Company

Dance connects me to my ancestry. Raised both in India and the U.S., I relish finding a balance between two cultures and feeling the irresistible pull of both countries. I see parallels between the evolution I have undergone as a dancer and choreographer, and the personal transitions I have experienced as a product of the diaspora. 

For me, dance and family are inextricably linked. For the last three decades, I have worked in a collaborative partnership with my mother, Ranee Ramaswamy. It began in 1984, when we both started training with my guru—the legendary dancer/choreographer Alarmél Valli, in Chennai, India. When I first saw her perform, I was forever changed. I never knew that one person could embody a myriad of emotions with such grace and brilliance. I was a quiet, introspective child who felt much more at home conversing with adults than playing with children my own age. Bharatanatyam was my outlet to focus my energy and express my emotions.

Ranee and I—although from different generations—underwent intensive training side by side, living and breathing this timeless, poetic art form. We practiced together, challenging and supporting one another. Today, when we create a new work, our conversations are rapid-fire, fluid and undisguised. My younger sister, Ashwini, is a beautiful dancer in her own right and a key member of my company. I feel so proud that the three of us have recently begun to create work together.

Bharatanatyam holds a significant place in Indian culture, as it is a multi-dimensional art form, integrating elements of music, movement, theater, philosophy and psychology. I am committed to circumventing notions that culture-based forms are impenetrable. My form transcends classification to tap into an inner spirituality that is universal.

As a co-artistic director, choreographer and principal dancer with Ragamala Dance Company—and the mother of twin 7-year old boys—my life has always been rigorous. The balance of family, performing, running an organization and creating new works is joyful, exhausting and truly rewarding.

Dance has never been a job, nor a hobby, but is intrinsically linked to who I am. My guru, a voracious reader, has taught me to look for inspiration in great works of literature. One of her favorite quotes, by William Butler Yeats, perfectly expresses how I feel: “O body swayed to music, O brightening glance, How can we know the dancer from the dance?”

The Salt Lake Tribune - Sacred Earth

Dance company makes a connection with ‘Sacred Earth’ and classic Indian form Bharatanatyam
Daisy Blake, The Salt Lake Tribune
November 10, 2016
Original Article

The classical dance form Bharatanatyam from India will be in the spotlight at the University of Utah this weekend as movement, music, visual art and poetry combine to celebrate connections between humans and nature.

Minnesota-based Ragamala Dance Company, formed by mother-daughter duo Ranee and Aparna Ramaswamy, will present "Sacred Earth" on Saturday at Kingsbury Hall as part of the new UtahPresents season.

Their work explores the dynamism of Bharatanatyam, from its ancient roots to its contemporary possibilities.

"Sacred Earth" aims to explore the interconnectedness between human emotions and the environments that shape them, says Aparna Ramaswamy, the daughter of the duo. " 'Sacred Earth' honors and celebrates the natural world and the interconnectedness of man and nature," she said. "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."

Bharatanatyam, she said, has a history that goes back two millennia and is one of the six classical dance forms from India. "Each of these forms reflects the rich diversity, of history, language, music, etc., of the different regions of India. Being a classical form, Bharatanatyam has a codified language of technique. This language is just that — a foundation or physical vocabulary upon which a dancer or choreographer may build. But the essence of the form lives within its practitioners and lineage she/he carries, making the form a dynamic, living tradition. What makes the form most intriguing, complex, and a beautiful reflection of life itself is its multidimensionality, integrating music, movement, theater, philosophy, psychology and spirituality."

Aparna grew up in the U.S. and India and says dance connects her to her ancestry.

"I relish finding a balance between two cultures and feeling the irresistible pull of both countries," she said.

"During our time in India, we were fortunate to spend each day studying with the legendary dancer/choreographer Smt. Alarmel Valli. During our time in the United States, there was a great pressure to maintain the lessons learned in India and to be ready to return the following year. However, during this time we were also able gain valuable experience in performance and cultivate those skills. This also meant our presentation of Bharatanatyam to Western audiences began very early and laid the groundwork for an educated and appreciative audience in the years to come."

She said that in her world, dance and family are inextricably linked, as for the past three decades, she has worked in a collaborative partnership with her mother. "It began in 1984, when we both started training with our guru, Valli. As Valli's only two private students, we spent countless hours practicing in our guru's home studio, filling notebook after notebook so that every step, gesture and emotion fulfilled the promise of this rich form.

Her younger sister, Ashwini, also "is a beautiful dancer in her own right and a key member of our company. I feel so proud that the three of us have recently begun to create work together."

The evening of dance will begin with a showcase of Salt Lake's own Bharatanatyam dancers, including ChitraKaavya Dance, founded by Srilatha Singh and Jyothsna Sainath's Nitya Nritya Dance Company.

Sainath also started practicing Bharatanatyam as a child.

"I was born and raised in Bengaluru, India, and Bengaluru is one of the south Indian centers for Bharatanatyam," she said. "I started learning it just as little kids start to learn ballet here. Over time, however, I developed a love for the sophistication of its technique and narrative vocabulary."

Sainath said her family moved to Utah about two years ago from Lincoln, Neb., for professional reasons. "On moving here, and starting Nitya Nritya Dance Company, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Salt Lake Valley has a rich and long history of supporting the arts in general," Sainath said. "This combined with a fast-changing demographic has contributed to building an appetite for a wide variety of artistic experiences in the valley."

ChitraKaavya Dance founder Srilatha Singh said her husband's job originally brought the family to Salt Lake City from Atlanta, and the Bay Area before that. "I started ChitraKaavya Dance in 2012 to explore my passion for this ancient art form that I learned in my youth," she said. "ChitraKaavya translates to 'visual poetry,' and we at Chitrakaavya dance visualize movement as visual poetry. We are interested in performing our traditional repertoire as well as collaborating to create new and interesting dance items that can be relevant, accessible and add to the rich tapestry of dance in the Salt Lake Valley."

READING EAGLE REVIEW - THEY ROSE AT DAWN

Review: Downtown Performing Arts Series get South Indian flavor with Ragamala Dance Company

By Susan Pena

Reading, PA

Aparna Ramaswamy, co-artistic director of Ragamala Dance Company, brought her mesmerizing evening-length solo work, "They Rose at Dawn" to the Miller Center for the Arts Friday evening as part of Reading Area Community College's Downtown Performing Arts Series.

Ramaswamy uses the vocabulary of the ancient and highly refined South Indian dance form, Bharatanatyam - which originated in Hindu temples - to explore contemporary issues, both sacred and secular.

Performed without an intermission, "They Rose at Dawn" explores various aspects of being a woman in four sections. Using ancient and modern poetic texts and original musical compositions, the piece is a perfect confluence of past and present, music and dance.

For the musical portion, Ramaswamy brought four musicians: C.K. Vasudevan, the nattuvanar, who plays the small cymbals and keeps everyone together with the dancer; vocalist Preethy Mahesh; Sakthivel Muruganantham on the mridangam (double-headed drum); and Carnatic violinist Anjna Swaminathan.

In their instrumental prelude to the first section, "Om Kara Karini," which focused on the various attributes of the goddess Devi, the musicians (the first three from India) proved to be consummate artists. Mahesh, particularly, used her warm, generous voice to pour out streams of intricately ornamented lines and a variety of timbres.

Swaminathan, in her solos, produced yearning, insinuating tones, always expressive and as fluent as Ramaswamy's arms.

Pulled onto the stage by the violin, Ramaswamy, in an exquisite violet traditional costume, projected images of Devi, the creator and destroyer, who maintains equilibrium in the world. The dancer's precise, clear rhythms and fluid arms, her radiant presence and energy, gave thrilling life to the ultimate female.

She is a strong, fierce dancer, whose feet never stopped moving, and whose every body part stayed fully engaged with the music, down to the last finger and toe. The final image of this section was the child's pose, utterly tranquil.

The music for this part was composed by the renowned South Indian vocalist and composer M. Balamuralikrishna, now 86.

In "Varnam," the longest piece on the program, with choreography by Alarmel Valli, her dance guru, Ramaswamy delved far into the longing of a woman for her lover, and of a devotee for the spiritual. In this work, Vasudevan added impressive percussive vocals. The work was set to a composition by the Tanjavur Quartet, a 19th-century ensemble of brothers.

A beautiful violin and mridangam duet provided a brief interlude, and then Ramaswamy danced "Two Scenes from the Mullai Tinai," based on ancient Tamil poems, full of kneeling postures and images of walking through a forest. Ragamala commissioned the music from vocalist/composer Prema Ramamurthy.

She finished with "Nalinakanthi," a happy, vigorous dance, performed with incredible energy after everything that went on previously. The music was another commission from Ramamurthy, with collaboration from Ramaswamy, Vinod Krishnan and Swaminathan.

It was a thrilling evening for anyone who loves South Indian music and dance, and a wonderful introduction for first-timers.