The Ragamala dance ensemble performed Aparna Ramaswamy’s “Sannidhi” on Wednesday, Jan. 22 in Stansbury Theatre as part of the 2013-2014 Dance Series.
Ragamala blends dance, poetry, and music that incorporate both Eastern and Western artistic and cultural traditions. Its artistic directors and main dancers, Aparna and Ranee Ramaswarmy, a mother and daughter duo, build upon the traditions of Bharatanatyam, the South Indian classical dance form, to create works that are at once ancient and timeless, distinctly Indian and universal.
Lasting about an hour, “Sannidhi” is a stunning, multifaceted work of art. It features South Indian Carnatic violin, classical percussion — also known as mridangam — vocals, poetry in English and, of course, dancing.
In “Sannidhi,” the program explains, “The stage becomes the sacred ground upon which to celebrate the guru, the divine, the natural world and the richness of human relationships. The spiritual and the secular merge into one, forming the continuous pulse of our universe.”
The performance began with a work called “Parashakti,” an invocation to the power and strength of the Divine Feminine. The dancing here, as in the entire program, displayed the power and strength of the feminine. The female dancers exhibited very feminine beauty, but through their dancing, revealed tremendous physical and mental power.
Bharatanatyam dancing looks quite effortless and even simple to the casual observer, but as I continued to watch the performance, I realized that all of the movements and poses must take enormous strength, control and skill. This is not at all a dance of frenetic, careless movement — it’s characterized by slow, stately and sensuous movements and held poses.
While dancing, the trunk of the body remains still and tranquil while the hands and feet are more intricately expressive. The dancers twirl their hands and fingers deliberately and place their feet with delicacy, rotating from the edges to sole. Red dye applied to the soles and toes of the feet as well as the palms of the hands accentuates these detailed movements.
At numerous times through the performance, the dancers would bow down to the ground with their hands stretched above their heads, seemingly in worship. After the first work, “Parashakti,” the second work, “Ganga,” celebrated the universality of the divine by representing the river Ganges, an especially divine river for Indians, although they consider all rivers divine to a certain extent. The flow of the Ganges symbolizes the journey of the soul to join with the universal divine.
The second half of the performance transitioned into more worldly subject matter, with “Javali,” a “love poem, sung in dance” and “Nrityanandam,” a celebration of life. It is here that the audience could begin to feel the essential oneness of the worldly and divine, as the evocations of romantic longing and vital joy mirrored the spiritual longing and religious awe of the first half of the program.
I was certainly enlightened and moved by this performance, although I am only an uninformed spectator. The art of Bharatanatyam is highly complex, and I know that I didn’t fully explore its subtleties and depths, but I would love to do so further. In this increasingly multicultural, interconnected world, there are practically infinite opportunities to learn and share across national, cultural and religious boundaries. I am very grateful to the performers who come to campus for providing these opportunities to those who want to share art and ideas across cultures, and I urge Lawrentians to take advantage of these opportunities to expand your worldview.