Ragamala dance

Minneapolis, Minnesota-based acclaimed Ragamala Dance Company’s newest piece, “Written in Water,” conceived and choreographed by Indian American dancers and choreographers Ranee Ramaswamy and Aparna Ramaswamy, will be presented Dec. 2 and Dec. 3 at the Zellerbach Playhouse in Berkeley, Calif. Shown above is a still from a previous performance. (calperformances.org photo)

A performance by the dancers of the Minneapolis, Minnesota-based Ragamala Dance Company, co-founded by Ranee and Aparna Ramaswamy, an Indian American mother-daughter duo, who are “dissolving the very boundaries of their art forms, creating performances that cut across cultures and disciplines, accepted definitions of classical and contemporary, and even time and space,” has been added to the lineup of Cal Performances at UC Berkeley’s 2017-18 season, titled, “Berkeley Radical.”

The performances of “Written in Water,” scheduled for Dec. 2 at 8 p.m. and Dec. 3 at 3 p.m. at Zellerbach Playhouse at the University of California, Berkeley, represent the theme of “Berkeley Radical – Blurring Boundaries.”

Rooted in the classical south Indian Bharatanatyam dance form, “Written in Water” draws on ancient influences and practices to explore the cultural complexities of the modern world.

The full-length work is choreographed by Ranee and Aparna, also the artistic directors of the dance company, and danced to live music, with an original score commissioned from Iraqi American trumpeter and composer Amir ElSaffar and Indian composer Prema Ramamurthy.

Now in its 25th season, Ragamala, according to its founders, embodies the spirit of the “Blurring Boundaries” programming strand in both its mastery of, and bold relationship to, tradition. “The company’s dedication to innovation and openness to collaboration have led it deeper into the essence of the Bharatanatyam art form, to find ways of organically introducing new genres and ideas into a centuries-old practice,” the duo stated in a press release.

The company has toured extensively, highlighted by performances at The Joyce Theater, the American Dance Festival, Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center, Music Center of Los Angeles, Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art, International Festival of Arts and Ideas, University Musical Society at the University of Michigan, Just Festival in Edinburgh, U.K., Bali Arts Festival in Indonesia, Sri Krishna Gana Sabha in Chennai, India, and National Centre for Performing Arts in Mumbai, India.

Ranee is a 2014 recipient of the Doris Duke Performing Artist Award. Among her many honors are 14 McKnight Artist Fellowships for Choreography and Interdisciplinary Art, a Bush Fellowship for Choreography, a 2011 McKnight Distinguished Artist Award, and a 2012 United States Artists Fellowship.

“Written in Water” unfolds over three movements, each showing markedly different shifts in character: the first movement draws on the ancient Indian board game Paramapadam (also known as Snakes and Ladders) to explore life’s travails; the second movement looks at the tension between good and evil through the Hindu myth Ksheerabthi Madanam, which tells of the churning of the seven seas; and the final movement pursues the divine, and ideas of transcendence, through the epic Sufi poem, “The Conference of the Birds,” which tells of birds who travel through seven valleys to achieve immortality.

The score, performed live by ElSaffar and four additional musicians, combines American jazz, traditional Iraqi maqam, and Indian Carnatic music.

Several public programs are planned in conjunction with the performances. Ragamala artists will host a participatory Snakes and Ladders workshop Dec. 1 at 5 p.m. onstage in Zellerbach Playhouse. Company dancers will lead participants in playing the ancient Indian board game Paramapadam, a central inspiration for “Written in Water.”

Participants are invited to explore the moral and psychological implications of the game in this introduction to the conceptual underpinnings of the work, and learn how Ragamala creates complex, multidisciplinary, and culturally complex dances. Tickets are $5, and capacity is limited; pre-registration is required at calperformances.org/learn/berkeley-radical/2016-17/programs.php.

A public forum is also planned with the Ramaswamys, ElSaffar, and Cal Performances associate director Rob Bailis Dec. 3 at 1 p.m. at Zellerbach Playhouse. The talk is free and open to the public.

Tickets for “Written in Water” on both days are priced at $58 (prices subject to change). Half-price tickets are available for UC Berkeley students. Tickets are available through the ticket office at Zellerbach Hall at (510) 642-9988, at calperformances.org, and at the door.

For more information or discounts, visit calperformances.org.

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