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Dance troupe brings South Indian culture to Clay Center Saturday

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The Ragamala dance company brings its production "Sacred Earth" to the Clay Center Saturday. The show combines traditional South Indian dance with a multimedia presentation to explore myth, mysticism and the interconnectedness of life.
WANT TO GO?Ragamala Dance "Sacred Earth"WHERE: Clay CenterWHEN: 8 p.m. SaturdayTICKETS: $10, $15 and $20INFO: 304-561-3570 or www.theclaycenter.orgEXTRA: A traditional South Indian dance class will be held at the Clay Center at 2:30 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $10.CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Ranee Ramaswamy does not lack for ambition. The Indian-born choreographer, artistic director and principle dancer for the traditional South Indian dance troupe Ragamala wants to bring her style of dance to mainstream America, to make it as accessible to dance fans as ballet.A step along that way will be Charleston. The troupe will perform its Bharatanatyam style dance Saturday night at the Clay Center in a show titled "Sacred Earth." The production brings the culture of Southern India to the stage, combining dance with a multimedia presentation to explore myth, mysticism and the interconnectedness of life. Ramaswamy and her dancers have a lot to say."Like ballet, our dance has a vocabulary," she explained. "There's a language you learn as a dancer, just as you might learn a language."And the language is complex.  There are many things to see."Our production is a feast for the eyes," she said.Every movement, gesture and facial expression of each dancer is part of the poem, part of the story, part of the message of the dance.  That kind of complexity is part of the traditional way of life in southern India.
"I grew up in a part of the world where every morning women make floor drawings using rice flour," she said. "These designs are done on the threshold of the house to welcome the goddess of prosperity. It's also cleaning the entrance, welcoming people who come and blessing those who leave."The ritual is more than a simple spiritual exercise. It also connects the spiritual world to the material world, allowing the people of the home to help take care of others.
"The rice flour also feeds the birds and insects all day," she added.Like the daily activities of those women in India, the dance has spiritual themes of daily renewal and impermanence built in to the production."The spinal cord of the dance is very spiritual," Ramaswamy said. "But it's not preachy at all. It's accessible and enjoyable. It's supposed to be entertaining."Ragamala has Indian roots and Indian founders, but the dance company/school was founded in Minneapolis. Born and raised in India, Ramaswamy settled in Minneapolis in 1978, where she became part of the local community of Indian immigrants. Like a lot of other ethnic communities across the country, they'd brought part of where they were from with them, but there wasn't the kind of dance she knew."The Indian community here didn't have anything like it," she said.Ramaswamy began to dance again, and with her daughter, returned to India to learn more before finally founding her own company and dance school.
"In all honesty, if I'd stayed in India, I probably wouldn't have continued with this," she said.Ramaswamy said in her native region of India learning the dance takes years and is really part of a way of life. Dancers begin when they're just children. Finding dancers in the U.S. is more of a challenge, but the expectations for performing are different. They don't have to be completely immersed in the Indian culture."Most of our dancers aren't even Indian. They don't even have Indian parents."But being a native of India isn't really all that important for this dance. The message is universal and language can be taught.Reach Bill Lynch at or 304-348-5195.
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