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Mother-daughters trio give Bharatnatyam global audience

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Ranee, Ashwini and Aparna Ramaswamy dance in a Ragamala Dance Company production (source: news.psu.edu)

Minneapolis-based Ranee Ramaswamy, along with her daughters, Aparna and Ashwini, has been performing uniquely-choreographed Bharatnatyam shows for nearly 30 years in front of a mostly Western audience.

Ramaswamy, who was born in Kerala and raised in Chennai, started to learn Bharatnatyam since she was a child. However, she met her master and spiritual guru many years later in Minneapolis, in 1983. Padma Bhushan Alarmel Valli taught Ramaswamy and her daughters the intricacies of the dance form along with its various interpretations.

Now, the trio performs and promotes the dance form all around the world. They have their own dance academy as well, named ‘Ragamala’. It is not just a “women-owned non-profit, growing partnership”, but according to Ramaswamy, is a “transformative academy which demystifies Indian dance, philosophy, art, symbolism and ethos in a culturally rich and living form.”

US President Barack Obama appointed Ramaswamy as a member of the National Council on Arts by in 2013. The next year, she was presented with the Doris Duke Performing Artist Award.

source: startribune.com
source: startribune.com

Aparna, Ramaswamy’s elder daughter, and also the more experienced, has several solo performances to her name, along with the performances with her mother in various countries, including the US, India, UK, UAE, Japan and Indonesia.

Among the renowned places where they held shows, are the Lincoln Centre in New York; the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC; the Music Center in Los Angeles, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.

Aparna recently performed her latest solo piece, ‘They Rose at Dawn’, at New York’s Joyce Theater. She is a member on the Board of Trustees of Dance in the US, and also serves as a panel member with the Indian Council for Cultural Relations.

Aparna’s passion for Bharatnatyam stems from the “challenge of developing and transforming the 2000-year-old art in a science of intricate movements to make it engaging and meaningful for the contemporary audience.”

“Bharatnatyam is interdisciplinary and holistic experience combining music, mythology, poetry, and history,” she said.

Ashwini, Aparna’s younger sister looks after the financial side of Ragamala. She promotes the dance form, and takes care of the public relations and funding opportunities.

“I like to combine language, art, emotions, rhythm, and music in the performances,” said Ashwini, who also performs solo apart from the performances with her mother and sister.

The Ramaswamys are among the few who are promoting the 2000-year-old Indian dance form on the other side of their globe. Not only are they redefining the traditional art form but also giving it a contemporary touch which would help it reach the global audience much more effectively.

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Crotia-Born Bharatnatyam Danseuse Finds Indian Youngsters Now Focussing on their Physical Expressions

She is trained in classical ballet, contemporary dance, folk dances, flamenco, physical theatre, and yoga, apart from Bharatanatyam

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physical expressions, bharatnatyam
Heading her own dance academy now, she said that learning the Indian classical dance has completed her as a human and as an artist. Flickr

Croatia-born Bharatanatyam danseuse Nikolina Nikoleski, who was encouraged to pursue dance forms and sports from childhood, finds to her delight that more and more Indian youngsters are taking to physical expression.

“India has recently changed and is still going through changes in last 6-8 years where more youngsters are also being exposed and encouraged in physical expression,” Nikoleski, 43, told IANS in an interview.

“I see that as a very positive change and good sign. Being healthy and free in one’s body is the foundation of a good and complete life,” she said.

Speaking about her own early practice, Nikoleski recalled: “I was born and brought up in Croatia where children from a very tender age are exposed and encouraged to pursue various dance forms and sports. Almost every child then takes this hobby very seriously.”

bharatnatyam, physical expressions
She is trained in classical ballet, contemporary dance, folk dances, flamenco, physical theatre, and yoga, apart from Bharatanatyam. Flickr

The hobbies later translate to professional spaces, and make Croatia — with a population of close to 42 lakh people — a country with “world, Olympic and European champions in every sport”, she said. She is trained in classical ballet, contemporary dance, folk dances, flamenco, physical theatre, and yoga, apart from Bharatanatyam.

Nikoleski’s quest to learn multiple dance forms took her from the small European country, where she started with gymnastics at the age of four, to the land of multiple cultures and dance forms — India.

Settled in Delhi since 2005, the professional dancer-teacher has learnt Bharatanatyam in India under the tutelage of gurus Saroja Vaidyanathan, Malavika Sarukkai, as well as Shanta and V.P. Dhananjayan.

Coming from the light-footed ballet tradition, it took dedicated practice for Nikoleski to master this age-old dance form, that requires the performer to do heavy footwork along with gestures and body movements.

physical expressions, bharatnatyam
Coming from the light-footed ballet tradition, it took dedicated practice for Nikoleski to master this age-old dance form, that requires the performer to do heavy footwork along with gestures and body movements. Flickr

“I fell in love with Bharatanatyam because of its amazing holistic art, beautiful expression, use of all body, including facial expressions, ‘mudras’, intricate footwork, state-of-art costume and jewellery, music and ragas.

ALSO READ: Ministry of I&B: Kids Dance Reality Shows Portray Young Ones Performing Inappropriate Moves

“They transform and elevate one’s feelings. Most importantly, it’s storytelling of ancient spiritual scripts, devotional poetry and brilliantly expresses all human yearnings, longings, emotions, and inner battles,” she explained.

Heading her own dance academy now, she said that learning the Indian classical dance has completed her as a human and as an artist. Nikoleski’s students – 73 of them, with ages ranging from four to 70 – performed classical ballet, contemporary and jazz dances at an event here last week. (IANS)