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Twin Cities-connected artists score big in Doris Duke performing arts awards

Posted by: Rohan Preston under Theater, Awards, Dance Updated: April 22, 2014 - 12:26 PM

Ragamala Dance Theatre founder Ranee Ramaswamy (right, photo by Ed Bock) was in Banana Republic at the Mall of America when she got the call that she had been awarded $275,000 from the Doris Duke Foundation in New York.

Choreographer Emily Johnson, who founded Catalyst Dance, was just about to give her dog a bath when she, too, got a similar call.

“I cried,” said Johnson, 38. “I was just stunned.”

Ramaswamy 62, had a similar reaction. “I walked out of the store and sat on a bench for God knows how long,” she said. “You know, you do your work out of love, and then a blessing like that comes.”

The Twin Cities scored big in the Doris Duke performing arts awards, announced Tuesday. In addition to Johnson and Ramaswamy, Twin Cities puppet-maker Michael Sommers was awarded $80,000 from the Duke Foundation, named for the famous arts loving philanthropist and tobacco heiress.

Golden Valley-bred composer and pianist Craig Taborn, who now lives in New York, also was awarded $275,000.

The Twin Cities-connected performers were part of a national roster of 39 artists in theater, dance and jazz who were honored this year. Choreographers Bill T. Jones, Joanna Haigood and John Jasperse were also named winners alongside playwrights David Henry Hwang, Lisa Kron and Tarell Alvin McCraney as well as jazz greats Roscoe Mitchell and Randy Weston.              

In the past three years, the Duke foundation has given out more than $18 million to artists, funds that are delivered over years and that include a portion for retirement savings.

Ramaswamy who founded Ragamala 22 years ago, is in Philadelphia, where she was on a panel for the Pew Charitable Trusts. She was, with daughter Aparna, the Star Tribune’s Artist of the Year in 2011. In 2012, President Obama appointed her to the National Arts Council.

“You know, as an artist, you’re working your little thread,” said Ramaswamy. “When it gets noticed, that gives you encouragement to continue doing what you do. This is a gift like that. And to be mentioned in the same breath with Bill T. Jones, that’s a high honor.”

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