An exploration of women as carriers of ritual, They Rose at Dawn premiered October 6-9, 2015, at The Joyce Theater and has been awarded a National Dance Project touring subsidy for 16/17.

The dance form of Bharatanatyam has a history that reaches back two millennia to the ancient temples of Tamil Nadu, in southern India. Integrating elements of music, theater, poetry, sculpture, and literature, this multi-dimensional art is part of a dynamic living tradition that offers an infinite scope for understanding and exploring the body, mind, and spirit. Bharatanatyam has a physical vocabulary, but its essence is in the communication of narrative, spirituality, and emotion. It is this quality that has allowed the form to survive through the years as a living, breathing tradition with the potential to convey both timeless themes and contemporary ideas. 


Ragamala Dance Company was founded in 1992 by Ranee Ramaswamy. Now in its 25th season under the direction of Ranee Ramaswamy and Aparna Ramaswamy (mother and daughter), Ragamala creates work that conveys a sense of reverence, of unfolding mystery, of universal celebration.

Ragamala has been hailed by The New York Times as “soulful, imaginative and rhythmically contagious.” The company has toured extensively, highlighted by the Kennedy Center (Washington, D.C.), Joyce Theater (New York), Lincoln Center (New York), Walker Art Center (Minneapolis), American Dance Festival (Durham, NC), Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, International Festival of Arts & Ideas (New Haven, CT), Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates), Just Festival (Edinburgh, U.K.), Bali Arts Festival (Indonesia), Sri Krishna Gana Sabha (Chennai, India), and National Centre for Performing Arts (Mumbai, India).


Women are carriers of ritual and culture, and arbiters of humanity’s relationship to the divine. Navigating inner and outer worlds, women are the primordial source of all creation; the compassionate mother; the lover, exuberant and erotic; the embodiment of power and strength.

Om Kara Karini
Musical Composition by Dr. Balamuralikrishna
Musical Arrangement: Smt. Prema Ramamurthy, commissioned by Ragamala Dance Company
Vocal percussion composition: Sakthivel Muruganantham
Ragam: Lavangi; Talam: Adi

In India, since time immemorial, worship of Devi—the Divine Mother—has occupied a place of singular significance. Devi is the personification of cosmic energy, immanent in the physical world that surrounds us. In her fearsome aspect, she destroys demonic forces that threaten world equilibrium. In her gentle, radiant form, she is beneficent, whose grace bestows bliss and prosperity. She creates, annihilates, and recreates the universe.

Devi is worshipped in thousands of forms. She is one and she is many, simultaneously embodying the intimate and the infinite.

Choreography by Smt. Alarmél Valli
Musical Composition by the Tanjavur Quartet
Ragam: Bhairavi; Talam: Roopakam

“Rendered as a love poem, the Varnam’s key-note of passionate yearning and adoration is interpreted on a dual plane, where the heroine of the song is both lover and devotee. The two aspects of the spiritual and the sensual are thus simultaneously explored in this multi-faceted dance, in which love and yearning become metaphors of the human spirit’s struggle and quest for liberation. In the Varnam, a word meaning colour, the two most important aspects of Bharatanatyam—Nritta (abstract dance) and Abhinaya (dance theatre)—are woven into a unique dance tapestry.” —Smt. Alarmél Valli

Two Scenes from the Mullai Tinai
Musical Composition by Smt. Prema Ramamurthy, commissioned by Ragamala Dance Company
Musical Arrangement by Aparna Ramaswamy and Ranee Ramaswamy
Ragams: Reeti Gowla and Amrithavarshini
Lyrics: Selections from Akanānūru 134, Seethalai Sāthanār, and Ainkurunūru 401, Pēyanār

The Tamil Sangam poets (300 B.C.E. – 300 C.E.) saw divinity in the physical world. Recognizing that human activities are interwoven with all of creation, they drew parallels between inner landscape and outer landscape and used the natural world as a metaphor to examine the intricacies of human emotion. The landscapes thus become more than geographical realms. Each region’s particular qualities—flora and fauna, climate and seasons, music and culture, people and daily life—are interwoven with emotional tones to create a distinct portrait of mood and setting. Characters in Sangam literature are never named, rather they represent ideals—paradigms of the human condition.

We interweave two brief haiku-like poems that explore the poetic conventions of the mullai landscape—a forest setting in the evening hours, during the season of rains. These imagistic poems offer the reader an intimate glimpse into a family, which we see as a metaphor for the recognition of the interdependence between man and nature.  Narrated through the lens of the female protagonist who is separated from her husband by war, a suggestive aesthetic conveys deep concern and awareness for the natural world.

Aparna sincerely thanks Ms. Vaidehi Herbert for her advice and scholarship on the poetry featured in this piece. (www.sangamtranslationsbyvaidehi.com)


Musical Composition by Smt. Prema Ramamurthy, with Aparna Ramaswamy, Vinod Krishnan, and Rajna Swaminathan, commissioned by Ragamala Dance Company
Musical Arrangement by Aparna Ramaswamy
Ragam: Nalinakanthi; Talam: Adi

 Music and movement, rhythm and melody, spirit and energy are woven together in a celebration of life.