Royal Danish Ballet & Ragamala Dance Company Open Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival 2018

Minneapolis-based Ragamala Dance Company opens the 2018 Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival with a vibrant, contemporary take on the South Indian classical dance form Bharatnatyam in the Doris Duke Theatre, June 20-24. Praised for a "visionary approach to an ancient art form" (Dance Magazine), Artistic Directors and Doris Duke Performing Artist Awardees Ranee Ramaswamy and Aparna Ramaswamy honor the legacy of legendary Smt. Balasaraswati in an opening solo performance and present the evening-length work Written in Water, featuring a live ensemble of internationally celebrated musicians.

"Smt. Balasaraswati brought Bharatanatyam to the United States and to the Pillow in 1962. It is fitting that we celebrate the centenary of this legendary artist's work with a performance by a U.S. based company founded by artists who, over five decades later, are some of this country's most skilled and innovative practitioners of this form. I have asked Artistic Directors Aparna and Ranee Ramaswamy to honor Balasaraswati legacy in a special way," says Jacob's Pillow Director Pamela Tatge.

The program opens with Om Kara Karini, a tribute to the late Smt. Balasaraswati on the occasion of the centennial of her birth. A pioneer of Bharatanatyam, Balasaraswati is noted for sharing the classical Indian tradition with the West through decades of solo performance and teaching. Balasaraswati made her U.S. debut at Jacob's Pillow in 1962. Om Kara Karini is conceived, choreographed, and performed by Aparna Ramaswamy in recognition of the worship of Devi-the Divine Feminine.

Written in Water, choreographed by the mother/daughter artistic team of Ragamala Dance Company, Ranee and Aparna Ramaswamy, explores the heights of joy and depths of longing in Hindu and Sufi thought. Described as a "feast for the eyes, ears, and heart" ( Tallahassee Democrat ), the piece is divided into three distinct sections and follows the concept of spiritual ascension in partnership with musical composition by Doris Duke Performing Artist Awardee Amir ElSaffar and acclaimed vocalist Prema Ramamurthy.

The first movement draws on the ancient Indian board game Paramapadam (a precursor to Snakes and Ladders). The gameboard serves as a physical and metaphorical framework through which the seekers/dancers navigate snakes and ladders to examine fate and free will. The second movement explores the human quest for the divine. The mythological story of Ksheerabthi Madanam-the churning of the seven seas-is a metaphor for a world in chaos. Amidst this dynamic tension between good and evil, the Hindy deity Vishnu stands for the perfect center toward which humans strive. The Conference of the Birds frames the arc of Written in Water. The protagonists of this 12th century Sufi epic progress through seven valleys, which symbolize states of being. Mirroring that journey, the final movement travels towards transcendence-and unmediated union with the divine. Each distinct section is carried through by an ensemble of classically trained Bharatanatyam dancers.

Lush paintings by V. Keshav of Chennai, India are projected throughout the space, transforming the stage floor into the Paramapadam gameboard. Iraqi-American composer Amir ElSaffar leads a musical ensemble with a distinct alchemy of Iraqi, jazz, and Carnatic instruments.


Ragamala Dance Company was founded in 1992 in Minneapolis, Minnesota by Ranee Ramaswamy. Now under shared direction with her daughter Aparna Ramaswamy, the company is in its 25th season of creating intercultural, collaborative performance works that forge together ancestry and continuity. The two generations work together to merge classical language of Indian dance with a contemporary western aesthetic, creating timeless pieces that freely move between the past and present.

Ragamala Dance Company approaches Bharatanatyam as an ancient but living, breathing language that communicates human experience in an accessible way. The company has been recognized with awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the National Dance Project, and many more. The New York Times lauds, "This is an excellent company...Ragamala shows how Indian forms can be some of the most transcendent experiences dance has to offer."

ABOUT Amir ElSaffar

Raised in Chicago to the sounds of Ella Fitzgerald and the Blues Brothers, Iraqi-American trumpeter, santur player, vocalist, and composer Amir ElSaffar has extended the boundaries of American jazz and Middle Eastern music by creating new sounds that combine both traditions. He performs actively in the U.S., Europe, and Middle East. As a composer, he established himself as an important voice in an age of cross-cultural music making. He has released five albums of his own and has played on countless others.

Ragamala Dance Company at Jacob's Pillow

Doris Duke Theatre, June 20-24

Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 8:15pm

Saturday & Sunday at 2:15pm

$45, $35, $25

A limited number of $25 Under 35 tickets are available; adults ages 18-35 are eligible. One ticket per person; each guest must show valid I.D. when picking up tickets at Will Call.

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