Steeped in South Indian tradition and colorful garments, the female dancers of the Ragamala Dance Company expressed the spirituality and richness of their culture.
The Clarence Brown Theatre presented the Ragamala Dance group Thursday night, which was sponsored by the Cultural Attractions Committee and the Indian American Association.
The company's founder, Ranee Ramaswamy, along with her daughter Aparna are the principal dancers and choreographers, with accompanying dancers also taking the stage.
It may have been tempting to section off parts of the dance in order to differentiate between slower and faster movements, but Sirisha Duvvuru, a recent graduate in speech pathology and audiology, does not recommend doing so. Duvvuru is from Hyderabad, located in the southern part of India near the origins of ragamala dance.
Most people in this part of India learn this form of dance to retain the tradition. Duvvuru said that if there is a particular member of the family who can teach the traditional music or dance, it is a gift, but she learned from a teacher as a young child.
"There are no pieces in the performance, and everything is related," Duvvuru said. "They included ten to twelve scales."
She explained that "rag" refers to the scale and "mala" means "an ornament that has beads."
"In Indian music, we have thousands of scales, unlike Western music, so it's very hard to choose an appropriate continuum of scales that flow so well. They have chosen the best scales and the flow from one scale to another is marvelous," she said.
The dancers were accompanied by a vocalist and violinist. Other accompanists included an artist playing the nattuvangam, an ancient Indian instrument resembling the sound of cymbals, and another musician beating the mridangam, the South Indian drum.
These instruments collectively kept in rhythm with the dancers, and the backdrops created a setting and mood for each sequence of the ensemble.
This helped set the mood, according to Cole Wood, freshman in English.
"I especially liked it when there was a solo dancer surrounded by the other ones," Wood said. "It enabled me to see a very interesting solo, but have the background keeping it up."
Despite not understanding the specifics of the story, the universal language of music translated it for audience members.
The liveliness of the dancers' feet and staccato notes of the instruments allowed audience members to understand the emotion behind the performance. Just as a story may be portrayed throughout a ballet performance, ragamala offers the same.
The Ragamala Dance Company offers classes in Minneapolis, Minn., and has toured around the world to countries including Bombay, Russia and Taiwan.