Guests in vibrant-colored saris created a sharp contrast to the straitlaced, book-lined James J. Hill Library, which made a perfect setting for the 20th anniversary gala for Ragamala Dance.

"As artists, we want to make a piece that is universal," said Ranee Ramaswamy, the company founder.

Since 1978, Ramaswamy has striven to overcome the barriers between cultures through dance. And she has gained notice for doing so. The master choreographer, performer and teacher of Bharatanatyam dance, a classical Indian dance form, was recently nominated by President Obama to be a member of the National Council on the Arts.

In her dance troupe, Ramaswamy said she aims for "high artistic quality" and the values that connect us all.

"Choreography and spirituality and deep philosophy -- all cultures have that," she said.

Sara Glassman • 612-673-7177