UMF hosting Indian dance exhibition


FARMINGTON – Swishing silks and painted feet, chiming ankle-bells and minute hand gestures. Indian dance is coming to Farmington this Sunday in the form of the Ragamala Music and Dance Theater.

The mother-and-daughter led group comes with a storied past and a fairy tale-like history, fairy godmother included.

Ragamala will perform at a Sexual Assault Victims Emergency Services fundraiser at 7 p.m. Sunday, the center’s executive director, Judy Rawlings, said. Locals John Rosenwald and Ann Arbor are responsible for bringing them here, she explained.

The two have been friends with troupe leader Ranee Ramaswamy and her family since 1994, Rosenwald said. After 23 years of marriage, he said, Ramaswamy left for India to become a dancer, asking legendary Bharatanatyam dancer Alarmel Valli to be her teacher.

“She was a very brave woman,” Rosenwald said, of Ramaswamy. “I will let you be my student, if you will let me teach your daughter,” Valli said, according to Rosenwald.

Years later, the dance troupe Ramaswamy started is world-renowned and has performed in Russia, Indonesia, and Taiwan, as well as nationally, he said.

Aparna Ramaswamy also performed her debut in India, according to the troupe’s Web site, and Rosenwald said she recently won a title as the best Bharatanatyam dancer in the world.

“Whenever they do an opening in Minneapolis we drive up to see them,” Rosenwald said.

Indian dance, and Bharatanatyam in particular, emphasizes beauty, he said. “The costumes are designed to make the dancers look beautiful, and they are made up to look beautiful, and the gestures are beautiful and their eyes are beautiful,” he said.

Bharatanatyam evolved in South Indian temples as a sacred dance, according to the Ragamala Web site. It emphasizes love, both between people and between people and the divine, Rosenwald said.

“And so they dance with their eyes, and their heads, and their hands,” he said. “One could go only to watch their hands. And then there’s the wonderful feet.

“They dance barefoot with bells on their ankles, and the slapping of their feet on the floor creates this wonderful energy that’s electrifying,” he said.

Ragamala blends the traditional with the modern, he said. “It’s very cool.”

The performance will be held at the University of Maine at Farmington’s Nordica Auditorium at 7 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 14, Rawlings said. Suggested donation for adults is $5, she said. The dancers will be available to talk with audience members afterward, SAVES member Valerie Huebner said.