The energy of the audience was bouncing off the walls at the Power Center for Performing Arts last Friday as audience members eagerly waited for the acclaimed Ragamala Dance Company. The curtain lifted and revealed an array of art forms, each coming together in a unique artistic masterpiece. The fanfare of visual arts, dance and music stunned the audience into an utter silence and focus. The entrancing beat of the mridangam, a type of Indian classical rhythmic instrument, combined with the soothing, earthy sounds of vocalists Preethy Mahesh and Amir ElSaff swept over the audience, soliciting a deep focus from every member.
The dancers glowed in their extravagant, traditional Indian costumes and jewelry. The images of the snakes-and-ladders board game projected on the stage transformed the dancers into plastic figures on a game board. The dynamic between playful upbeat projections and the serious grief of the performance, as portrayed through theatrics, allowed the audience to make the dance their own. Bharatanatyam, the South Indian dance performed by the company, is traditionally performed as a solo and a communication between the dancer and a deity.
Even though the ensemble performed as a group, their distinct inner dialogues and thoughts were projected onto the audience, and each dancer was unique in their own journey of self-discovery. In one instance the mother and daughter duo, Aparna Ramaswamy and Ranee Ramaswamy, choreographed a memorable duet where the experience and heart wrenching grief of their movements were sharply contrasted with control and grace. Every subtle movement was purposeful, allowing the audience to find their own purpose through the the dancers.
The brilliant musical score, written by Amir ElSaffar and Prema Ramamurthy, was inflected with syncopated jazz rhythms that excited the mind and facilitated a deep journey into the inner depths of thought. Transitions between dance movements provided a time of reflection and meditation, as the vocal line submerged listeners with its drone-like, humming tones. Live music facilitated a dialogue between the musicians and the dancers that was incredible to behold. Every beat on the mridangam and every vocal line seemed to express the grief or ecstasy of the dancers, and the live music gave the choreography a human quality, especially in the highly rhythmic portions of the piece. The invigorating and crisp rhythmic vocalizations paired with the clear-cut movements of the dancers were intoxicating.
One’s eye could never stay in one place for a long time. In addition to the snakes-and-ladders projections, a small screen hovered above the stage that projected the artwork of Keshav, who portrayed gods and goddesses of Hinduism through a modern lens.
It was as much a journey of self-discovery for the artists as it was for the audience. Ashwini Ramaswamy, choreographic associate and dancer, said, “We move through different emotional states and states of being, and the audience will be on that emotional journey with us, as well.”
The audience was right there with them.