POSTED BY CAROLINE PALMER, SPECIAL TO THE STAR TRIBUNE
When Myron Johnson, artistic director of Ballet of the Dolls, took the Ritz Theater stage on Saturday night to introduce Ashwini Ramaswamy, he reminded the audience that a dancer’s first solo show is a “rite of passage.” It’s an opportunity, he said, “To do your own thing.” And Ashwini, a member of Ragamala Dance, did just that in “Swarupa (Revelation).”
A live Indian orchestra accompanied Ashwini, who was dressed in a costume of brilliant red and gold, as she performed the south Indian dance form known as bharatanatyam. Vocalist Lalit Subramanian, Rajna Swaminathan (percussion), Anjna Swaminathan (violin) and Ashwini’s mother, Ranee Ramaswamy (co-artistic director of Ragamala with Ashwini’s sister Aparna Ramaswamy), chanted the spoken syllables that add another layer to the complex rhythms. Dance and music have a strong bond in bharatanatyam, and this symbiotic relationship was on display throughout the evening.
Ashwini performs with all the grace and beauty commonly associated with bharatanatyam, but she also brings a level of athleticism, ferocity and even a touch of mischief into her dancing. In “Pushpanjali, Manikya Veena, and Alarippu,” choreographed by bharatanatyam luminary Alarmél Valli (guru to all the Ramaswamys), Ashwini showed her maturity with the difficult choreography but as her eyes darted side to side playfully she also demonstrated the extraordinary physical control required of her craft.
Ashwini also shared her lyrical side in “Bho Shambho” and “Alaipayuthe” (both choreographed by Valli). During the former she covered the stage with her joyful steps in celebration of the Hindu deity Shiva while the latter was marked with moments of stillness.
The evening concluded with Ashwini’s own creation, “Thillana,” which showed her light-hearted side in full effect. Dancing with confidence, joy and, always, control, Ashwini delivered a complex and exciting work that perfectly reflects her outgoing personality. It is always special to see an artist coming into her own. The standing ovation Ashwini received was a fitting salute to all of her hard work.