On April 7, 2023, the BroadStage presented Ashwini Ramaswamy’s Let the Crows Come. American born Ashwini, is from a mixed heritage of Indian dance performers. Her Mother, Ranee Ramaswamy and sister Aparna Ramaswamy, born in India, are co- directors of the Ragamala Dance Company in Minneapolis, MN. They have been Ashwini’s life influence in the intricate Bharatanatyam dance form, which in turn influenced the theme of her newest work Let the Crows Come.
The evening was a work of heterogeneous dance forms and cultures, and choreographed by three varied and quite distinct dance makers; Ashwini in the Bharatanatyam Indian Dance tradition; Berit Ahlgren, dance maker of the “Gaga movement” developed by Israeli Ohad Naharin; and Alanna Morris, whose work is based in Modern dance, African and Urban vernacular with Classical Ballet.
The evening began with the exciting mix of Indian crossover music played by Arun Ramamurthy (co-composer, violin) multifaceted violinist and composer; with the powerful voice of Roopa Mahadeven (co-composer, vocals) leading second-generation Indian classical and crossover vocalist; Indian-American percussionist, composer, and educator Dr. Rohan Krishnamurthy (co-composer, percussion – mridangam, khanjira, ghatam) leading musician of Indian classical and cross-genre music in the South Asian diaspora; Brent Arnold (composer, cellist) creator and performer of music for solo cello and electronics; and composer/vocalist for more than four decades, Prema Ramamurthy.
With this wonderful base, one was prepared for the interactions and anticipation of the Hindu Ritual connecting the Crow’s role in linking the living with the dead. Ashwani’s carefully choreographed poses, subtle arm and hand gesticulations began and ended not fully realizing the fire nor freedom of the expressive Bharatanatyam. Her performance, while certainly meditative and subtle, appeared muted from this intense classic form so complete in itself. The symbolism of the crow’s flight was watered down perhaps in an attempt to mix vernaculars.
It was followed by the somewhat aimless Ahlgren’s contribution to the piece. Gaga Movement depends on “listening to the rhythm of the body” in order to develop the capacity for “unique movement.” Her exploration stretched far less than the idea proposed in the program notes. The promised uniqueness was forfeited and somewhat neutralized. Ahlgren’s personal exploration thru the Gaga method, in relation to the story, seemed careful and limited which lulled it into a one note performance and disappeared in the darkness. At times, this Gaga technique became so internal as to become inert.
However, one of the highlights of this evening was Alanna Morris who brought a joyous spirit that lifted the performance. Her selfless willingness to reach out to the audience was a relief. Her background in Modern dance, African and Urban vernacular with Classical Ballet was a plus, her spirit of unity addressing not only the audience but her connection to her fellow performers, was uplifting. By this simple act of reaching out and opening herself up, sustained the piece, telling the story with a fire-in-the-belly that livened the evening and brought the sense of unity to the stage.
The evening ended with the three dancers gathering around a lit sphere, that had been on stage for the entire piece but never used nor explained, they reached into the light, and finally resolved the evenings meditation which confirmed he “Song of a Dream” by Srojini Naidube,”
“…To quench my longing I bent me low,
By the streams of the spirits of Peace that flow
In that magical wood in the land of sleep.”
And with this connection, resolved the piece as they lifted their arms and hands with flowing iridescent matter and released it like water, glowing and flowing through each of their fingers. A beautiful resolution for the finale of the piece. My only hope is that this might have been integrated in the other parts of the evening.
This, with such rich possibilities, is a work in progress that certainly has the elements and concept to be an eloquent statement of unity of human and spirit world. It needs to be re-examined to connect all elements with a unifying eye that would help to bring the work together.
For more information about Ashwini Ramaswamy, please visit her website.
For more information about BroadStage, please visit their website.
Written by Joanne DiVito for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Let the Crows Come – by Ashwini Ramaswamy – Photo by Jake Armour