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Song of the Jasmine

"Like the colour in gold, you were in me. I saw in you, Lord, white as jasmine." —Mahadevi Akka (12th century), When I Didn’t Know Myself

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Posted on March 25, 2014 by Ragamala Dance Company


Walker Commission/World Premiere

 Song of the Jasmine

Walker Art Center, McGuire Theater

May 15-18, 2014


 In India, the jasmine flower traverses the world of man and the world of the gods. This inspired new work freely moves between past and present, composition and improvisation, music and dance, delving into the concept of longing through the lens of recollection, appeal, and total surrender. Guided by the rich poems of the Tamil Bhakti poet Andal, Song of the Jasmine embodies the spiritual and the sensual that are the lifeblood of the Indian psyche.

Ragamala‘s directors Aparna Ramaswamy and Ranee Ramaswamy collaborate with jazz saxophonist/composer Rudresh Mahanthappa for an exploration that conjures the past in order to experience the power of the present. Heralded for his “roving intellect and a bladelike articulation” (New York Times), Mahanthappa heads a new ensemble that features Rez Abbasi (guitar), V. K. Raman (South Indian flute), Rajna Swaminathan (mridangam), and Anjna Swaminathan (violin) for a live soundscape of jazz and Carnatic music.

We’re happy to share with you video footage of our rehearsals last month. If you’re not able to join us for the premiere, please keep checking this site for news of our 2014-2015 U.S. tour.


Song of the Jasmine has been commissioned by the Walker Art Center (Lead Commissioner and Development Partner); the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Lead Commissioner), through its Advancing the Incubation and Development of New Work in Dance Initiative funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, University of Maryland (Co-commissioner) ; and Lincoln Center for Lincoln Center Out of Doors (Co-commissioner)

 Song of the Jasmine is made possible in part with funds provided by the National Endowment for the Arts; the New England Foundation for the Arts’ National Dance Project, with lead funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; the MAP Fund, a program of Creative Capital, supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; New Music/USA’s Commissioning Music/USA program, made possible with generous annual support from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and endowment support from The Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust, The Helen F. Whitaker Fund, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The Rockefeller Brothers Fund, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the Francis Goelet Charitable Lead Trust; the RBC Foundation USA; and the generous support of Ragamala’s “Rasika Circle.” In honor of Dale Schatzlein (1948-2006) and his important work in dance and jazz in the Twin Cities, additional support is provided by Emily Maltz.




Conceived by Aparna Ramaswamy and choreographed with her long-time artistic partner Ranee Ramaswamy, Song of the Jasmine is a new collaboration with jazz saxophonist/composer Rudresh Mahanthappa. As artists who believe that innovation originates with a profound understanding and enduring respect for tradition, they converge on the common ground of creating art in which universal themes are intertwined with a transformative artistic perspective.

The artists’ bicultural identity as Indian-Americans has influenced their artistry in significant yet distinct ways. Aparna and Ranee re-frame the cultural specificity of Bharatanatyam to bring a unique voice to the contemporary stage. Rudresh merges South Asian and Western traditions in a manner that transcends previous notions of “fusion” in jazz. Rooted in this shared identity, the artists take inspiration from the transformative poetry of medieval India to explore American identity, global citizenship, and the divine.

Song of the Jasmineis inspired by the Bhakti poets, who redefined notions of the self by reconceiving spirituality apart from established ritual, claiming a personal relationship to the communal and the divine. Following in their footsteps, the artists draw parallels with their own experience as they work to uphold the traditions of their ancestors and use them to speak with distinct voices as contemporary American artists.

This collaboration presents a new challenge for each artist: Rudresh working for the first time with dance, Aparna and Ranee working for the first time with the improvisatory concepts of jazz.

Rudresh’s work is rooted in the synergies and shared improvisational freedom between jazz and the Carnatic (South Indian classical) system of raga and tala—the tonal/rhythmic framework that exists as a basis for intricate improvisation and composition. This collaboration will allow him to take this concept to a deeper level, incorporating Aparna and Ranee’s extensive experience with composers/musicians in the development of original musical scores for dance.

Aparna and Ranee are known for deeply emotional work highlighting the spontaneity and freedom embodied in the interplay between dancers and musicians on stage. The immediacy of emotion felt by the dancers translates into a palpable feeling permeating the audience. They will expand this aesthetic to meet the improvisatory freedom of jazz, with improvisation as a crucial part of their creative process and manifesting in live performance. They will work with Rudresh to explore the counterpoint of rhythm and dynamic contrast across the two genres. They will experiment with linking phrases of music and movement, each dancer following a distinct instrument. Known for their power as performers, Aparna and Rudresh will experiment with dynamic interplay and improvisational give-and-take, delving into shades of subtlety, spontaneity, playfulness, and drama.

Song of the Jasmine will be performed by Ragamala with Aparna and Ranee as soloists, and Rudresh leading an ensemble featuring some of the most forward thinking, intercultural-minded musicians of this generation: Rajna Swaminathan (mridangam), V.K. Raman (Carnatic flute), and Rez Abbasi (guitar).

Commissioned by the Walker Art Center (Minneapolis), Clarice Smith Center (Maryland) and Krannert Center (Illinois), Song of the Jasmine will premiere at the Walker May 15-18, 2014. 

Project Media

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S. Indian melodic ornamentation (gamaka) & rhythmic cadence(mukthayam) recontextualized as compositional tools in a Western setting. Melody could be perceived as pentatonic, but is indeed raga Mohan—with the same core pitches, distinguished by directional/ornamental approach. 22-beat cycle is based on traditional 21-beat(7×3) pattern, added beat producing a rhythm analogous to break-beat/dance music. Interlude alludes to harmonic elements pioneered by John Coltrane & Sun Ra Raman Kalyan Poovalur Sriji Dan Weiss Frankfurt HR Radio Big Band

Sacred Earth
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Conceived and choreographed by Ranee and Aparna Ramaswamy, Sacred Earth explores the interconnectedness between human emotions and the environments that shape them. Set to a commissioned score by Prema Ramamurthy and Rajna Swaminathan and performed live, the dancers create a sacred space to honor the divinity in the natural world and the sustenance we derive from it. It is inspired by the philosophies behind the ephemeral art forms of Kolam and Warli painting and the Tamil Sangam literature of India.

Start and End Dates



Minneapolis, Minnesota

1 update
Last update on March 25, 2014

Project Created By

Minneapolis, Minnesota
Ragamala Dance Company creates interdisciplinary dance works that explore the intersection between the ancestral and the contemporary. Under the direction of Ranee Ramaswamy and Aparna Ramaswamy (mother and daughter), Ragamala’s approach to Bharatanatyam as a dynamic, living tradition has resulted in work that speaks across boundaries of language, culture, ethnicity, nationality, and faith, and has…

In Collaboration With

Choreographer and Dancer
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Composer and Saxophonist
Montclair, New Jersey


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