With Aparna and Ranee Ramaswamy – a mother-daughter team of first-generation Indian-American artists – at its helm, Ragamala marks its 25th season with an original work that draws from traditional South Indian dance, 12th-century Sufi texts, Hindu mythology, and a musical ensemble led by composer Amir ElSaffar. The result is an exploration of the tension between good and evil and mankind’s struggle to navigate earthly obstacles, told through Ragamala’s “soulful, imaginative, and rhythmically contagious” (New York Times) artistry.
FROM THE CHOREOGRAPHERS
In Written in Water, we explore the concept of spiritual ascension through the 2nd century Indian board game Paramapadam (a precursor to Snakes & Ladders), the 12th century Sufi text The Conference of the Birds, and the Hindu mythological story Ksheerabthi Madanam, the churning of the seven seas.
We have drawn upon The Conference of the Birdsto frame the arc of Written in Water. The protagonists of this Sufi epic progress through seven valleys, representing states of being. With Written in Water, we mirror their journey through a world of psychological complexity, traversing experiences of spiritual longing, human love, unity with others, detachment from material life, and finally ultimate oneness with the divine.
In the first movement of Written in Water, we experience human life, love, and struggle, explored through the framework of the board game Paramapadam. The gameboard serves as a physical and metaphorical framework through which the seekers/dancers navigate snakes and ladders representing the heights of ecstasy and the depths of longing.
In the second movement, we explore the human quest for the divine. The mythological story of Ksheerabthi Madanam is a metaphor for a world in chaos. Amidst this dynamic tension between good and evil, Vishnu stands for the perfect center toward which humans strive. In the final movement, we journey toward transcendence—toward unmediated union with the divine.
In developing Written in Water, we played the game hundreds of times, using the floor as the board and our bodies as the game pieces. The projected images are from original paintings by Chennai-based visual artist Keshav, specially commissioned by Ragamala for this work. Written in Water was developed through an ongoing collaboration in which choreography, music, and visual art were constructed simultaneously in a constant artistic dialogue that spanned two years.
—Ranee Ramaswamy and Aparna Ramaswamy