MCA Ragamala Dance with Mahanthappa Review - Dancers and Musicians Enthrall


Ragamala principal dancers Aparna Ramaswamy performs beneath a canopy of bells.

As a devotee rings one bell, “The Song of Jasmine” begins. 

Audience members are enthralled by onstage interplay of dancers and musicians who demonstrate 21st century relevance of a traditional dance form energized by contemporary jazz in Ragamala Dance with Mahanthappa



Powerful and sensual movement grace the stage at the Museum of Contemporary Art as Mother and daughter Ranee and Aparna Ramaswamy  and members of  their Minneapolis based Ragamala Dance Company use their finely honed classical dance skills to create fresh  experiences. Renowned jazz saxophonist and composer, Rudresh Mahanthappa, utilizes the Indian classical system of raga and tala as a tonal and rhythmic framework for intricate improvisation to provide perfect accompaniment for Ragamala choreography.



Minneapolis based Ragamala dancers:  Ranee, Aparna, and Ashwiini Ramasway, Tamara Nadel and Jessica Fiala. present a gripping performance of “Song of the Jasmine.” Inspired by the century Tamil poet Andal, who expresses “deep longing” and “the desire to merge the soul with the Supreme Consciousness.” every gesture in “Song of the Jasmine,”  radiates joy or generosity or a sense of striving toward some higher form of being.  The shimmering gold, tangerine,mango, and bronze silks of their costumes reflect the range of emotions in a wordless language of rhythm and gesture



Co-Artistic Directors, Ranee and Apara Ramaswamy draw from the myth and spirituality of their South Indian heritage “to make dance landscapes that dwell in opposition—secular and spiritual life, inner and outer worlds, human and natural concerns, rhythm and stillness—to find the transcendence that lies in between.” They “craft every moment to create intricate and complex worlds that convey a sense of reverence, of unfolding mystery, of universal celebration.”



Intricate mudras (hand gestures), as well as movements of eyes and head, flexible postures and lively footwork with ankle bells complementing percussion are vital in this expressionist dance.



The dance is supported by powerful, sensual hybrid sounds bridging progressive jazz with South Indian classical music provided by Mahanthappa on alto sax,  guitarist, Rez Abassi,  Carnatic Violinist, Anjna Swaminathan, flutist Raman Kalya, flutist Raman Kalya, and Rajna Swaminathan (mridangam/South Indian percussion).  The drumming anchors the movements while the sax leads the narrative portrayed  by the dancers.



Variety in musical composition is evident during intervals of music without dance, while remarkable collaboration of disciplined dancers and creative musicians produces  an extraordinary performance for Chicago audiences. 

Ragamala Dance South Indian Bharatanatyam with Mahanthappa Contemporary American Jazz, the Edlis Neeson Auditorium in the Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 East Chicago Avenue, Chicago 8:00pm  April 10, 11, 12 .


Photos: Courtesy of Ragamala Dance Company


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