Cal Performances, UC Berkeley
December 2, 2017
“Written in Water”
Ragamala Dance Company brought a vitalized dimension to Cal Performances’ World Dance Series with this event. The choreographers’ work is based in the South Indian classical dance form Bharatanatyam.
Within that discipline, Ranee and Aparna Ramaswarmy have built a three part program employing games, mythology and a Sufi text. The dancing was accompanied by a group of brilliant musicians, paintings, scrolls and historical images. “Written in Water” was an absorbing, enlightening show.
The dance form is known for its intricate hand and face gestures that often illustrate stories, in this case “Ksheerabthi Madanam,” a metaphor for a world in chaos. “Vishnu stands for the perfect center towards which humans strive.” Ranee and Apart, mother and daughter, were primary performers of this material. The other three dancers serve as a chorus. They are Ashwini Ramaswamy, Tamara Nadel and Jessica Fail.
Set against this spiritual journey, the first section is built around the board game Paramapadam, known familiarly as Snakes and Ladders, supposedly to represent “the heights of ecstasy and the depths of longing.” The dancers dressed in gorgeous gold costumes, move in expansive patterns across the stage. Their arms, shoulders, heads and legs are in constant motion, except for amazing moments of stillness when then squat deeply and gaze out.
The music ensemble consisted of Amir RlSaffar, trumpet, saunter and vocal; Pretty Mahesh, vocal, Rohan Krishnamurthy, mridangam, Arun Ramamurthy, violin and Kasi Aysola, nattuvangam. Although many of the sounds were unusual to western ears, the synthesis of the whole was beautiful and engaging. I was particularly moved by the tongue-twisting vocalization of dance rhythms.
Original paintings by Keshav, artworks by Ethan Christopher and historian images from the Museum of Archeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge provided fascinating decor. The paintings, employing bird images, illustrate the 12th century Sufi text, “The Conference of the Birds.”
This award winner team of family members and distinguished artist have brought great beauty and a new insight into dance to the Berkeley audience.
Joanna G. Harris