Ranee and Aparna Ramaswamy

Ranee Ramaswamy and Aparna Ramaswamy are Artistic Directors, Choreographers, and Principal Dancers of Ragamala Dance, founded by Ranee in 1992. As dancemakers and performers, they explore the dynamic tension between the ancestral and the contemporary, making 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. As protégés and senior disciples of legendary dancer and choreographer Alarmél Valli, known as one of India’s greatest living masters, Ranee and Aparna’s training in the South Indian classical dance form of Bharatanatyam is the bedrock of a creative aesthetic that prioritizes truthful emotion above all else.

Ranee and Aparna’s work is supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, National Dance Project, MAP Fund, The McKnight Foundation, New Music/USA, USArtists International and the Japan Foundation, and has been commissioned by the Walker Art Center (Minneapolis), Lincoln Center Out of Doors (New York), the Krannert Center (University of Illinois), the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center (University of Maryland), and the American Composers Forum. Ranee and Aparna were jointly named “2011 Artist of the Year” by the Minneapolis Star Tribune.  Their upcoming work, Written in Water, has been selected for a development residency at the Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography (MANCC).

Ragamala Dance tours regularly with a company comprised of 4-6 dancers and 4-5 musicians, plus 1-3 staff and crew.

Partnership Project: McKnight Artist Fellow | March 17-26, 2015

Written in Water

Ranee Ramaswamy and Aparna Ramaswamy came to MANCC to develop a multi-media production, Written in Water, that employs elements of chance and improvisation. As a child in India, Ranee played the board game Paramapadam—“game of destiny”—that takes players on a symbolic journey through life, highlighting concepts of action and consequence, philosophy and psychology, will and fate, chance and destiny. Ranee and Aparna chose Paramapadam as the physical space and metaphysical framework of Written in Water. The game (later adapted by the British as Snakes & Ladders) takes players on an allegorical journey, encountering twelve vices (“snakes”) and five virtues (“ladders”) on a search for ultimate wisdom.

The building blocks of the work are seventeen choreographic segments rooted in the gameboard’s seventeen vices and virtues, which unfold upon a projected gameboard. To bring these abstract concepts to life, Ranee and Aparna have drawn ideas and texts from the 12th-century Persian epic The Conference of the Birds and the Sangam literature of classical South India (c.300 BCE-300 CE). Conference’s allegorical quest for ultimate truth parallels the dancers’ progression on the gameboard, while the Sangam authors’ intimate reflections on internal emotion elaborates on the personal, human elements of the vices and virtues. A commissioned score from Amir El Saffar and Prema Ramamurthy intertwines Iraqi Maqam and South Indian Carnatic vocals and instrumentation. The choreographers directly translate the uncertainty of the game to the action of the work. Governed by chance rolls of a die, dancers and musicians move freely between composition and improvisation; no two performances are the same.

While at MANCC, Ranee and Aparna explored movement creation with the dancers and worked with musicians to develop the musical approach. They spent time investigating the projection of the game board on to the stage floor and considered how the dancers will navigate the board.  Additionally, they met with FSU Associate Professor in Classics, Dr. Svetla Slaveva-Griffin and Dr. Claudia Liebeskind, Associate Professor of History to discuss the text Conference of the Birds and make connections to the Sangam literature of classical South India that the work references.

Previous to their Spring residency, Ragamala‘s newest work, Song of the Jasmine, came to Tallahassee as part of Opening Nights, December 3 - 4, 2014.

This residency was supported, in part, by the McKnight Artist Fellowships for Choreographers, a program funded by The McKnight Foundation and administered by Northrop that supports Minnesota individual artists.

  • <i>Written in Water</i> rehearsal
  • Aparna and Ranee observe Ramya Sundaresan-Kapadia rehearsing <i>Written in Water</i>
  • Ranee and Aparna Ramaswamy discuss the projection of the game board with FSU designer Zach Cramer
  • Aparna and Ranee experiment with projection ideas for <i>Written in Water</i>
  • Aparna and Ranee talk with the MANCC class about the underlying concepts in <i>Written in Water</i>
  • Ragamala collaborators play Paramapadam
  • Ragamala creates a game board on the floor of the studio to use in rehearsal
  • Musicians Lalit Subramanian and Anjna Swaminathan
  • Ranee Ramaswamy rehearses with Tamara Nadel
  • Ashwini Ramaswamy
  • Aparna and Ranee rehearse Ashwini Ramaswamy in <i>Written in Water</i>
  • FSU professors Svetla Slaveva-Griffin and Claudia Liebeskind discuss the themes of the work.
  • Ranee Ramaswamy, Ashwini Ramaswamy, Tamara Nadel
  • Aparna Ramaswany
  • Aparna Ramaswany
  • Ashwini Ramaswamy and Aparna Ramaswany
  • <i>Written in Water</i> rehearsal
  • Tamara Nadel
  • Ashwini Ramaswamy
  • Ramya Sundaresan-Kapadia
  • Aparna Ramaswany
Collaborators in residence: Ashwini Ramaswamy, Tamara Nadel [dancers], Lalit Subramanian, Rajna Swaminathan, Anjna Swaminathan and Ramya Sundaresan-Kapadia [musicians]

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