Review: Three dancers, one solo. How do they appropriate it?

Dance is in Ashwini Ramaswamy’s blood. Much of his extensive training in the classical South Indian form of Bharatanatyam took place un...


Dance is in Ashwini Ramaswamy’s blood. Much of his extensive training in the classical South Indian form of Bharatanatyam took place under his mother, Ranee Ramaswamy, and sister, Aparna, the artistic directors of the respected Ragamala Dance Company in Minneapolis. But to grow, don’t most of us need a little rebellion? Or, at the very least, a pinch of audacity?

In his magnetic “Let the Crows Come” Ramaswamy achieves something of both, with one foot planted in the present and the other in tradition. For this one-night piece at the Baryshnikov Art Center — opening two years after its planned premiere in New York – she took a Bharatanatyam solo and placed it on three bodies to explore how she was shaped by two worlds: India and the United States.

Most important are the different ways in which these bodies were formed: The work features Ramaswamy; Alanna Morris, whose background is in modern dance and Afro-Caribbean traditions; and Berit Ahlgren, a specialist in Gaga, the gestural language developed by Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin. (All three are credited as choreographers of the work.) Ramaswamy is a singular dancer, but so are they all – Morris’ strength is breathtaking.

The source is Ramaswamy – lively and scintillating in his statuesque poses, demanding footwork and fluttering, bird-like fingers and hands that illustrate, in part, the crow’s role in connecting the living to the dead. After dancing on her own and then being briefly joined by Ahlgren and Morris, she finishes her opening solo on her own. The same structure is repeated with the other two, knitting the work together with simple eloquence.

Even though the dancers matched and echoed each other’s arms and feet, their interpretations were sometimes starkly – and certainly stylistically – different. Yet they were all able to hold the stage with similar intensity, as if they were dancing spirits, one overshadowing the other. And the music was just as important. For her experience, Ramaswamy was drawn to the way a DJ remixes a song. How does a piece of music, or a dance solo, change and morph to reveal different facets over time? And how can it honor different generations?

For their composition, Jace Clayton, known as DJ Rupture, and Brent Arnold use a Carnatic score by Prema Ramamurthy as a starting point. Joined by Rohan Krishnamurthy, Arun Ramamurthy and Roopa Mahadevan – whose soulful voices seemed to guide Ramaswamy’s supple feet along an invisible tightrope – they created a world of sound that, like dance, dives into the past and present. .

Through interpretations by Ahlgren and Morris, Bharatanatyam’s choreography creates an undulating pattern of sensations. Ahlgren is articulate yet supple and dreamy, as if she had been taught Bharatanatyam while floating in water; all the while, her arms sculpt and curve almost forcefully as she clings to the shapes and her torso undulates, pausing when necessary for emphasis.

And Morris, who draws inspiration from Ramaswamy’s detailed use of the face with her own cheerful smile and shining eyes, finds her way into Bharatanatyam as she crosses the stage, sinking into big juicy puffs while stretching his arms for days. She is articulate but free in her body; swirling down to the ground and rising again, you feel that its sense of cascading momentum, for all its glory on the ground, also has a weightlessness to it.

If Ramaswamy is like a living sculpture and Ahlgren more distant, diaphanous and airy, Morris ties them together, surfing on a peak of feeling as if he were dancing the stories of his ancestors. It makes sense: Ramaswamy’s title is inspired by a Hindu tradition involving the offering of rice. If a crow comes to eat the rice, it means your ancestors are fine — they have ascended.

Throughout the evening, a large bowl of rice sat in front of the stage. In his last moments, the three dancers surrounded him; palms open, each gathered as much as they could before letting it rain through their fingers as they stood under a thin spotlight.

Did you know something like this was going to happen? Sure. But it was still striking. Finally, the dancers, who moved in separate spheres, joined forces as if the threads of Ramaswamy’s imagination had united and blossomed, making room, not just for more generations, but for more ways of thinking. The crows have come.

let the crows come

Through April 15 at Baryshnikov Arts Center, Manhattan; bacnyc.org.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Review: Three dancers, one solo. How do they appropriate it?
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