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Students get preview of Indian dance show

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A little bit of southern India has come to Charleston.

Friday morning, Ragamala Dance, a troupe from Minneapolis, provided area students a preview and sample of its show scheduled for Saturday night at the Clay Center.

The show features Bharatanatyam, an ancient form of dance from southern India that Ragamala founders Aparna and Ranee Ramaswamy have used as a modern medium with new stories created from the language.

Dancer Tamara Nadel explained that Bharatanatyam is classical, like ballet, not traditional like folk dancing, and isn't locked into a limited repertoire.

"It uses the same vocabulary," she said, "but Ragamala's dances were not performed 500 years ago or 2,000 years ago."

The implication is that the dance is still growing, still evolving and there was more the ancient dance could say.

It was beautiful to watch, although there was a lot to take in.

Accompanied by nearly hypnotic drums, five dancers illustrated a series of complex, choreographed patterns.

The dance was mesmerizing and thought-provoking. Each gesture, facial expression, every single movement of each dancer was part of an intricate language.

Nadel described it as "almost being poetry in sign language."

In this case, the poem of the dance, "Sacred Earth," is people and nature living in harmony.

Of course, the language is unfamiliar and without some translation here and there, some of the message will invariably get lost in the translation.

Still, the troupe moved together with great precision without ever becoming mechanical.

It was fascinating and unusual -- exotic, but without seeming completely alien.

Ragamala Dance's "Sacred Earth" takes place Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Clay Center. A dance workshop is being offered from 1 to 2:30 p.m.

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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