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Written in Water – National Tour

A multimedia meditation on ecstasy, longing, and loss

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Community Engagement in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Berkeley, California

Posted on July 2, 2018 by Ragamala Dance Company

Photo Caption: A young participant in Ragamala’s Snakes & Ladders Workshop, on Stage at Zellerbach Playhouse in Berkeley, supported by New Music USA (photo by Erik Madsen-Bond)


Ragamala makes a practice of partnering with presenters and community institutions—both at home and on tour—to bring our work out into the community, providing potential audience members with points of access that demystify our culturally rooted dance form, make diverse audiences feel welcome and invested in work whose origins may at first seem unfamiliar, and introduce them to the ways in which Ragamala creates complex, multidisciplinary, and culturally hybridic dance works.

Ragamala’s weeklong residency in Ann Arbor included a master class with University of Michigan Dance students, a community “You Can Dance” movement workshop at the Ann Arbor YMCA, visits by Ragamala artists to area K-12 schools, a sold-out school-day matinee at the Power Center for K-12 students, and an artists’ talk by Artistic Directors Ranee and Aparna Ramaswamy about their journey as first-generation immigrant artists whose creative vision has woven the wisdom of their ancestry and the openness of their new home to become a vital part of the United States’ cultural fabric.

Activities in Berkeley included an artist’s talk by Ranee, Aparna, and composer/musician Amir El Saffar about the creation of Written in Water, and a Snakes & Ladders workshop—held on stage at Zellerbach Playhouse—in which the public was invited to step into the world of Written in Water. Participants joined company dancers in playing a life-sized version of this 2nd century Indian board game that inspired Written in Water, using their bodies as pieces on the vibrant gameboard featured in the performance (designed by visual artist V. Keshav and projected on the stage floor). 

Both venues exhibited Six Yards of Memory—a photographic installation created by Ragamala Founder/Artistic Director Ranee Ramaswamy with photographer Ed Bock, which uses the six yards of a saree as a canvas to encapsulate Ragamala’s 25 years as an early incubator of collaborative performance works that forge together ancestry and continuity.

Activities at our recent engagement at Jacob’s Pillow (June 20th-24th, 2018) included an artists’ talk, a dance master class, and a lunch discussion with students from The School at Jacob’s Pillow. Please stay tuned for a full report from our wonderful week at the Pillow!     

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Written in Water coming to Jacob’s Pillow, June 20th – 24th, with live music

Posted on June 13, 2018 by Ragamala Dance Company
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Ragamala is honored to be making our debut appearance at the iconic Jacob’s Pillow festival next week, with six performances between June 20th and 24th, 2018.


This will be the third engagement of our U.S. tour, supported by New Music USA. Last October, 1,096 people attended a nearly sold-out public performance at the Power Center in Ann Arbor Michigan, presented by University Musical Society. In December, 710 attended two public performances at Zellerbach Playhouse in Berkeley, presented by Cal Performances.

Audience members in Berkeley called Written in Water, a spectacularly beautiful performance” and “a true delight! Visually gorgeous, dramatic, rich and warm—a feast of color, with fascinating dance and choreography, complemented by wonderful music.”

Jim Leija, Director of Education & Community Engagement at University Musical Society, wrote. “The performance was, in a word, gorgeous. The original score created an extraordinary cross-cultural current that carried the audience across a lush tapestry of intricately illustrated projections and finely calibrated gesture and movement. Written in Water is an exemplar of the intercultural exploration and exchange that is a hallmark of Ranee and Aparna’s work. In this era of political divisiveness and isolation, Ranee and Aparna’s work feels vital, optimistic, full of possibilities, and, often, very healing.”


Video Caption: Trailer by Alexander Voltai, featuring footage from a rehearsal for our December, 2017, engagement at Cal Performances in Berkeley, supported in part by New Music USA

Written in Water at Cal Performances, Berkeley

Posted on November 21, 2017 by Ragamala Dance Company

Looking forward to our performances of Written in Water at Cal Performances’ Zellerbach Playhouse, Saturday-Sunday, December 2nd and 3rd, 2017:


The Michigan Daily wrote of our October 20th performance in Ann Arbor, presented by University Musical Society:

“Their distinct inner dialogues and thoughts were projected onto the audience, and­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­ each dancer was unique in their own journey of self-discovery…. Every subtle movement was purposeful, allowing the audience to find their own purpose through the the dancers.

“The brilliant musical score, written by Amir ElSaffar and Prema Ramamurthy, excited the mind and facilitated a deep journey into the inner depths of thought…. Live music facilitated a dialogue between the musicians and the dancers that was incredible to behold.”  


Thanks to New Music/USA for helping to make it possible for us to tour with live music! 

Written in Water – National Tour Update

Posted on June 22, 2017 by Ragamala Dance Company
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Congratulations to all our fellow artists who received Project Grants this year. We’re delighted to be a part of this spectacular cohort!

We’re looking forward to the first engagement of our national tour on October 20th at the Power Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan, presented by University Musical Society.

Details can be found at, 



“Written in Water unfolded like a dream — a feast for eyes, ears and heart…. The work’s power and the company’s artistry created a lexicon of sound, vision and movement that allowed each audience member to project their own story onto the stage.”

–The Tallahassee Democrat


Ragamala’s evening-length, multimedia dance work, Written in Water, is choreographers Ranee and Aparna Ramaswamy’s exploration the concept of spiritual ascension through the 2nd century Indian board game Paramapadam (precursor to Snakes & Ladders) and the 12th century Sufi text The Conference of the Birds. The gameboard serves as a physical and metaphorical map for a world of psychological complexity, in which seekers/dancers navigate snakes and ladders representing the heights of ecstasy and depths of longing. Using the epic journey of Conference of the Birds as a framework—traversing seven valleys, or states of being, toward ultimate union with the divine—Written in Water connects the human with the transcendent and reveals mysteries within the self.


A commissioned score interweaves Amir ElSaffar’s distinctive alchemy of contemporary Western music and Iraqi Maqam with original compositions by Prema Ramamurthy, known as one of India’s greatest living Carnatic classical composers for dance. The musical ensemble features second-generation American artists who draw on training with great masters in India and the Middle East to forge new musical paradigms, led by Amir ElSaffar on trumpet, santur, and Maqam vocal, with renowned India-based Carnatic vocalist Preethy Mahesh.  Written in Water unfolds upon images projected on the stage floor and an upstage vertical panel, featuring paintings by India-based artist Keshav, commissioned by Ragamala for this work.


Written in Water was developed over four years, through Ragamala’s signature process of synergistic collaboration, in which choreography, music, visual art, and design were constructed simultaneously in ongoing artistic dialogue. The artists played the game hundreds of times, using the floor as the board and the dancers’ bodies as game pieces, in a process of improvisation and experimentation in music and dance.


Ragamala makes a deliberate choice to perform only with live music, reveling in the spontaneity and improvisatory possibilities of the conversation between dancers and musicians on stage. The emotional immediacy of this interaction allows audiences to engage across boundaries of culture, ethnicity, age, nationality, gender, and geography—to let go of mental barriers and leave themselves open to honest reaction.


The artists will offer audience engagement activities through which they will spark active conversation about the creation of culturally-rooted artwork in the diaspora. These will provide a forum for audiences to explore ideas that are deeply relevant to our complex polycultual world, examining the dual cultural planes where many Americans exist, and forging a hybridic way of telling the story of the new America.


Modeled after Ragamala’s successful engagement program in our home community of Minneapolis (supported by Dance/USA’s Engaging Dance Audiences grant), we will provide opportunities to play the game of Paramapadam—this hands-on experience giving audiences a point of entry into the abstract, conceptual nature of Written in Water.

Start and End Dates



Minneapolis, Minnesota

4 updates
Last update on July 2, 2018

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

Minneapolis, Minnesota
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Choreographic Associate/Dancer
Minneapolis, Minnesota


One response to “Written in Water – National Tour”

  1. Beautiful and convincing Bharatanatyam! Wishing you best of luck at Jacobs Pillow Dance Festival! What a special treat for your audiences!j

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