As an artist still in her 30s it’s too soon to call Aparna Ramaswamy a master of her craft. But Saturday night at the Cowles Center, Ramaswamy proved she is destined for this title. The co-artistic director of Ragamala Dance performed a solo show, “Sannidhi/Sacred Space,” demonstrating her grasp of the wide range of expressive and technical possibility within the south Indian classical dance form of Bharatanatyam.
Minneapolis was the sixth stop on a nine-city U.S. tour for “Sannidhi.” In this homecoming, Ramaswamy danced with high spirits, laser-focusing the audience’s eyes on her every movement. A live Indian orchestra — all female — matched Ramaswamy, propelling themselves and the dancer to new heights. Roopa Mahadevan’s vocals soared and swooped while Rajna Swaminathan (percussion) and Anjna Swaminathan (violin) played with a keen sense of timing and control. Ragamala co-artistic director Ranee Ramaswamy, yielding the spotlight to her daughter, calmly chanted the rhythmic and sometimes tongue-twisting dance syllables that commonly accompany Bharatanatyam.
Ramaswamy opened the program with “Parashakti,” a work especially choreographed for her by Alarmél Valli. The Chennai, India-based artist is Ramaswamy’s guru, and the piece — an invocation to the Divine Feminine — celebrates just how far her student has come. Ramaswamy’s dancing was powerful and controlled, reminiscent of the Hindu goddesses called upon by Valli in her honor.
While each of the four works on the program was strong, “Gangashtakam” stood out for its nearly indescribable beauty. The rivers of India served as inspiration. Ramaswamy, aided by Ranee in the choreography, revealed how completely the idea of flow can be embodied within a dancers’ body. She performed with reverence and joy, evoking the many aspects of water as a source of life.
Shifting moods, Ramaswamy delved into the problems of love in “Javali.” The work almost functioned as a conversation with a missing and delinquent paramour whom the dancer alternately scolded and teased within the dance. And “Nrityanandam, Nrityadandam” closed the evening on a high note. Ramaswamy — still as composed as when she first stepped onto the stage an hour earlier — danced with an emphatic energy, summoning the music around her like an invisible partner. It was yet another triumphant effort by Ramaswamy, now a world-class performer, and there are sure to be many more.
Caroline Palmer writes about dance.