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.
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.