'Yathra' is a joyous journey through life

  • Article by: CAROLINE PALMER , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 1, 2011 - 1:17 PM

In exploring day and night, the latest work from Ragamala Dance covers the human experience.

Provided photo Ragamala Dance Co. From the production Yathra (Journey).

Ragamala Dance has many reasons to rejoice this month. The troupe, led by mother- and-daughter artistic directors Ranee Ramaswamy and Aparna Ramaswamy, recently enjoyed a successful tour to Washington, D.C., to perform in the Maximum India Festival at the Kennedy Center.

Now add to the list Ragamala's performance of "Yathra" this weekend. The evening-length work is a wondrous journey through the life cycle, and it expertly showcases the singular beauty of Bharatanatyam, a classical south Indian dance form.

"Yathra" uses the different phases of day and night to illustrate the breadth of human experience. Fittingly, the work begins at dawn as the confident ensemble (Bria Borcherding, Amanda Dlouhy, Jessica Fiala, Tamara Nadel and Ashwini Ramaswamy) emerges to summon the sun with slow, reverent movements set to shimmering live musical accompaniment from the masterful Shubhendra Rao on sitar and Saskia Rao on Indian cello.

When Aparna Ramaswamy steps onto the stage in her gold-toned costume, it's like the arrival of a glorious spring morning. Her precise gestures suggest a buzzing bee to flowers and planting seeds. Every aspect of her physical and expressive being is committed to telling a story. Here, and throughout the work, Jeff Bartlett's lighting design evokes the time of day through subtle shifts of color and shadow.

The early scenes are filled with communal celebration. The dancers are playful, like children running wild in a field, and the music reflects this sense of optimism. The footwork is appropriately light, and the emotional tone is carefree. But as "Yathra" progresses and day rushes toward night, a sense of longing emerges. A bird in flight is a common theme in the gestures. Everything is changing. When Aparna Ramaswamy returns for another solo, her face churns with conflicting emotions.

The final stages of the work unfold in a twilight world. Ranee Ramaswamy's movement is more contemplative and grounded, tinged with sadness or even regret. The other performers quickly dance past her like memories in a flipbook. She fades into the darkness, but it's clear that the cycle will continue as it always has. The dancers gather to renew the rituals from earlier in "Yathra." A new day -- a new life -- is eagerly anticipated. And so is the next work from Ragamala.

Caroline Palmer writes about dance.

  • RAGAMALA DANCE

    When: 2 p.m. Sunday.

    Where: The O'Shaughnessy at St. Catherine University, 2004 Randolph Av., St. Paul

    Tickets: $29, 651-690-6700 or www.ticketmaster.com.

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