Performing Arts Houston Presents Ragamala Dance Company


Fires of Varanasi: Dance of the Eternal Pilgrim by Ranee Ramaswamy and Aparna Ramaswamy presented on March 10

Our Bureau
Houston, TX

Ragamala Dance Company’s 30th season continues with Fires of Varanasi, presented March 10, 2023, at 7:30 pm at Performing Arts Houston, Cullen Theater, Wortham Center, Houston,

Rooted in the expansive South Indian dance form of Bharatanatyam, Ragamala Dance Company manifests a kindred relationship between the ancient and the contemporary. In this evening-length performance, eleven dancers conjure a realm where time is suspended and humans merge with the divine. Award-winning creators Ranee Ramaswamy and Aparna Ramaswamy imagine a metaphorical crossing place that enters a ritualistic world of immortality, evoking the birth-death-rebirth continuum in Hindu thought to honor immigrant experiences of life and death in the diaspora.

Fires of Varanasi evokes the spiritually electric city, described by mother and daughter in conversation with essayist Pico Iyer as a metaphor for the interconnectedness of life and death. The work features an original, recorded score and the lighting designs of French scenic and lighting designer Willy Cessa.

Fires of Varanasi: Dance of the Eternal Pilgrim was commissioned by The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts; co-commissioned by the Harris Theater for Music and Dance; co-commissioned by and developed in part at the Hopkins Center for the Arts at Dartmouth College and The Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts, Cal State Northridge and Northrop, University of Minnesota; with additional commissioning support from Jay and Susie Gogue Performing Arts Center at Auburn University; Meany Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Washington; American Dance Festival; and The Joyce Theater Foundation’s Stephen and Cathy Weinroth Fund for New Work.

The Meany Center for the Performing Arts Dance Series is generously underwritten by Delaney and Justin Dechant and Ira and Courtney Gerlich in honor of Katharyn Alvord Gerlich.

Ragamala Dance Company is the vision of award-winning mother/daughter artists Ranee Ramaswamy and Aparna Ramaswamy. Over the last four decades, Ranee and Aparna’s practice in the South Indian dance form of Bharatanatyam has shifted the trajectory of culturally rooted performing arts in the United States to create an exemplary company within the American dance landscape. Through both intimate solos and large-scale theatrical works for the stage, Ranee and Aparna empower the South Asian American experience. By engaging the dynamic tension between ancestral wisdom and creative freedom, they reveal the kindred relationship between ancient and contemporary that is urgently needed in today’s world.

Featuring Aparna Ramaswamy as Principal Dancer, Ragamala has been commissioned and presented extensively throughout the U.S., India, and abroad, highlighted by the Kennedy Center (Washington, D.C.), Joyce Theater (New York), Lincoln Center (New York), Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival (MA), Walker Art Center (Minneapolis), American Dance Festival (Durham, NC), The Soraya (Southern California), Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, International Festival of Arts & Ideas (New Haven, CT), Cal Performances (Berkeley), Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates), Just Festival (Edinburgh, U.K.), Bali Arts Festival (Indonesia), Sri Krishna Gana Sabha (Chennai, India), and National Centre for Performing Arts (Mumbai, India), among others.

The word ‘Ragamala’ directly translates to ‘garland of melodies.’ Every day in India, people string together garlands of flowers as offerings to the gods, hoping the deities will vanquish the darkness and fill their life with radiance and meaning. Our work weaves together artistic and cultural practices from past generations to find new values within our current circumstances. The garland represents a collaborative ethos that unveils the synergies between people from every walk of life, finding and forming a language that speaks across time and cultural difference to probe the universal aspects of humanity. Ragamala at 30 continues to seek radiance and meaning by connecting the ancient and current ways in which we as human beings engage the world around us.

Ranee Ramaswamy is the Founding Artistic Director of Ragamala Dance Company. Her creative vision is driven by a profound commitment to the artistic lineage imparted to her through four decades of training under legendary Bharatanatyam dancer/choreographer Padmabhushan Smt. Alarmél Valli, intertwined with a pioneering spirit of innovation and collaboration across culture and discipline. Since immigrating to the U.S. in 1978, Ranee has been a trailblazer, working tirelessly to create a place for her culturally rooted work on the major stages of the U.S. dance landscape. Her choreographic work has been commissioned and presented by the Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center, Joyce Theater, Northrop, Walker Art Center, American Dance Festival, and Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi, among many others.

In September 2021, Ranee’s Fires of Varanasi opened the Kennedy Center’s 50th Anniversary celebration. Ranee serves on the National Council on the Arts, appointed by President Barack Obama. Her recent honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship, Doris Duke Performing Artist Award, Bogliasco Foundation Fellowship (Italy), Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center Research Fellowship (Italy), United States Artists Fellowship, McKnight Distinguished Artist Award, Bush Choreography Fellowship, and 14 McKnight Fellowships for Choreography and Interdisciplinary Art, among others.

Aparna Ramaswamy is regarded in the U.S. as one of the exemplary soloists in Bharatanatyam. As a choreographer, performer, and culture bearer, Aparna mines the artistic, philosophical, and intellectual depths of her dance form with the intent to evolve ancestral and cultural knowledge in the diaspora as a catalyst for contemporary human thought. Her four decades of training in Bharatanatyam under legendary dancer/choreographer Padmabhushan Smt. Alarmél Valli is the bedrock of her creative aesthetic. As Executive Artistic Director of Ragamala Dance Company, Aparna has catalyzed a bold new vision for Bharatanatyam in the diaspora. Her choreographic work ranges from emotionally spacious yet intimate solo presentations to large-scale, multidisciplinary theatrical works. Her work has been commissioned and presented by the Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center, Joyce Theater, Northrop, American Dance Festival, Silk Road Ensemble, and Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi, among many others.

Performing Arts Houston (formerly known as Society for the Performing Arts) connects audiences with exceptional artists through diverse performances and learning experiences. We ignite and cultivate passion for the performing arts, exploring the vast landscape of artistic expression to discover new understanding about ourselves, create community, inspire dialogue, and enrich our world.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

scroll to top