Penn State College of Arts and Architecture
Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State

Ragamala Dance Company to perform ‘Song of the Jasmine’ with live music Sept. 22 at Eisenhower

Ragamala Dance Company, celebrating 23 years of a contemporary approach to the classical Bharatanatyam dance method of southern India, will present “Song of the Jasmine” to an Eisenhower Auditorium audience at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 22.

“Song of the Jasmine,” a “soulful, imaginative and rhythmically contagious collaboration” according to a New York Times reviewer, features music by jazz composer and alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa. He and four other musicians on guitar, Indian lute, percussion and violin will perform the dance’s music on stage.

Purchase tickets, which are $38 for an adult, $19 for a University Park student and $28 for a person 18 and younger. A grant from the University Park Allocation Committee makes Penn State student prices possible.

Ranne Ramaswamy and her daughter, Aparna—co-artistic directors, choreographers and principal dancers—have spent more than two decades creating ways to combine the Indian ethos with the Western aesthetic.

“Our aesthetic is to present the form of Bharatanatyam in its glory and complexity and without tampering with its technique, with its authenticity … but pushing the thematic boundaries,” said Aparna, who along with her mother was born in India and lives in Minneapolis. “We may look to ancient literary sources … but in a way that, thematically, comes together and resonates with us today as Indian-Americans, or with a general audience and in themes that everyone can connect to and understand.”

Bharatanatyam — from the Sanskrit bha (expression), ra (melody), ta (rhythm) and natyam (dance) — is one of the oldest methods of dance in the world and is meant to translate mythical tales to the masses. It weaves together theatrical elements such as facial expressions, hand gestures and deliberate movements in a performance-art language. Traditionally, it’s a solo dance, but the Ramaswamys’ choreography makes room for five dancers — including Ranee’s other daughter, Ashwini (also Ragamala’s marketing director).

Watch an excerpt of “Song of the Jasmine.”

“Song of the Jasmine” took inspiration from the writing of Tamil poet-saint Andal, known for her devotion to Lord Vishnu, widely regarded in Hindu culture as the supreme being. Andal’s works depict dreams of intense longing to become the bride and servant of Vishnu.

Previous Ragamala programs have featured blues music by Billie Holiday, operatic compositions and Japanese drums. With “Song of the Jasmine,” Ragamala enlisted the talents of Mahanthappa, known for his collaborations that fuse Western and Indian styles of music. His performance with the band Kinsman inspired the Ramaswamys to approach him about “Song of the Jasmine.”

“When I heard the music, and heard the emotion and the complexity and the arrangements of the instruments and instrumentation, I was really moved to try to work together,” Aparna said. “It really spoke to my sense of being an Indian-American. … The balance was very fluid. It was smooth in some ways. … It had the spirituality, it had that deep emotion, it had the improvisation, it had the complexity, but it really brought these two cultures together in a very deep way.”

Artistic Viewpoints, an informal moderated discussion featuring a visiting artist or artists, takes place in Eisenhower one hour before the concert and is free for ticket holders. Artistic Viewpoints regularly fills to capacity, so seating is available on a first-arrival basis.

In addition to the performance, Ragamala members will demonstrate Bharatanatyam at a 6:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 21, engagement event in the Eisenhower lobby. The one-hour event is free and open to people of all ages. Attendees will have the opportunity to learn dance steps. Reservations are not required, but space is limited.