The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


October 30, 2011

Troupe will showcase classic dances of India

The culture of India will be explored through movement and melody.

“Ragamala Dance: Sacred Earth” will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 13 at Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center in Richland Township.

The dance company presents innovative works within the tradition of Bharatanatyam, the classical dance of southern India.

Bharatanatyam is derived from Indian words meaning expression, melody, rhythm and dance.

It is a complex, classical dance rather than a folk dance.

Bharatanatyam also is not a historical dance, never changing for hundreds of years.

“It grows with age and with the dancer,” said Ranee Ramaswamy, founder, artistic director and choreographer of Ragamala Dance.

“It’s a cultural sharing and includes everyone, and it’s beyond entertainment. It’s an emotional experience.

“Dance was created by the gods to be enjoyed by the people. The choreography becomes a complex language of its own.”

Ramaswamy is a principal dancer along with her daughter, Aparna, who also serves as co-artistic director.

“Sacred Earth” took two years to develop. It is the biggest and most complex endeavor in the troupe’s history.

The troupe includes five other dancers who will perform solos and duets in addition to dancing together.

The troupe has chosen white costumes for “Sacred Earth,” which celebrates the harmony between humans  and nature.

Those who perform Bharatanatyam wear elaborate jewelry and headdresses.

Because faces and hands are prominently featured in Bharatanatyam, heavy makeup is used and fingers and feet are painted red for definition.

The dancers will perform barefooted, and bells will be worn on the ankles to accentuate the rhythm.

“We will be constantly in and out on the stage in various groups,” Ramaswamy said. “It will be a continuous show with no intermission.

“We’re well-known for our technical perfection and professionalism, but it will be a good treat, too.”

The performance will include Kolam, an intricate design made from rice flour that women in southeast India create every morning, and Warli paintings made by the indigenous tribes of western India.

Ramaswamy is from southeast India, and her mother taught her the traditional designs that each family passes down.

“You use your fingers to create the sacred space,” Ramaswamy said. “The designs invoke the goddess of prosperity.

“If someone in the family dies, a design is not made, and other villagers might ask if something is wrong or if the woman of the house is sick,” Ramaswamy said

“We use rice flour to give back to the earth what we have received. The birds and insects eat it, and so we take care of our smaller neighbors.”

When the Kolam is erased by sunset, it enforces that things of beauty do not last forever.

In their performance, some dancers will make the flour designs on the stage while others dance on them.

The Warli tribes make paintings on their walls depicting highlights of everyday life using paste made from rice flour.

Their folk paintings depict a life lived in meaningful coexistence with nature.

“They don’t make them every day,” Ramaswamy said. “The government is trying to get the art out.

“The Warli make them on canvas, which isn’t traditional. They’re in high demand in the art community.”

For the performance, Ragamala Dance will have Warli paintings projected on a screen and dance behind and around them.

A preshow dinner featuring traditional Indian food will be served at 5:30 in the studio theater at the arts center.

Dinner reservations are due by Nov. 8.

A free workshop on Bharatanatym and Kolam drawings with hands-on demonstrations will be held at 12:30 p.m. Nov. 14 in the studio theater, and reservations are required.

If you go ...

What: “Ragamala Dance: Sacred Earth.”

Where: Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center, Richland Township.

When: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 13.

Tickets: $30, $26 and $24 for show only; $49 for dinner and show.

Information: 269-7200, (800) 846-2787 or


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