Ragamala opens Performance Series

Published 6:31 pm Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sacred Earth will include classical elements including the creation of kolams which are paintings of a sort on the ground, using rice flower. Photo by Marius Sipa

Sacred Earth will include classical elements including the creation of kolams which are paintings of a sort on the ground, using rice flower. Photo by Marius Sipa

Attendees of the Paramount’s 2014 Performance Series will get an exciting start to the season with Ragamala Dance: “Sacred Earth” on Feb. 28 at The Paramount Theatre.

The show features traditional Indian elements from the southern portion of India. People will be treated to dance, poetry and art on a scale that they haven’t had the opportunity to see.

“It’s definitely going to be something a majority of the community hasn’t seen before and we certainly haven’t done before at the Paramount,” said Jennie Knoebel, executive director of the Austin Area Commission for the Arts. “It ties in literature as well as artwork and drawings.”

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The show title “Sacred Earth,” refers to the feeling of the planet all around us and our part in it, according to Louise Robinson, managing director of Ragamala.

“I think it’s both a beautiful and somewhat emotional and visual production,” Robinson said. “It is based in the southern Indian dance form. It is a classical form of dance and it’s not as distinct as traditional form. It has a certain movement structure in the vocabulary that dancers learn but there is a lot of freedom to interrupt music and poetry.”

The presentation will mostly be an ensemble performance with solos interspersed throughout, and, if stage logistics allow, it will also include projection though that decision has not been made yet.

“We’re pretty confident it will involve some projection,” Robinson said. “We’re hoping to do that, but it depends on what space can actually support.”

Ragamala Dance: "Sacred Earth." Photo by Edward J. Brock III

Ragamala Dance: “Sacred Earth.” Photo by Edward J. Brock III

Classical Indian elements

When it’s all combined, the elements of Ragamala Dance: Sacred Earth should be something people will leave talking about in no small part because the separate elements are so strong in themselves.

The dance is a classical dance called Bharata Natyam that relies on specific hand and head movements where every part of the body becomes involved in the dance.

Another part is the use of the kolam, which is a painting of sorts made of rice flower that has a very mathematical design. Dots are connected with lines to form the intricate patterns, but there is more to the patterns than simply creating art.

In a way, the designs are a storytelling device used by Indian women who create the designs outside family homes each day after the previous design from the day before is washed or wiped away in due time.

“They are indications of what is going on in the household,” Robinson said. “You could get a sense of what is going on in the village.”

“They’re very ephemeral,” she continued. “People walk over it; birds and animals eat it. It’s the cycle of life and the earth. It’s a concept that beauty does not have to be tangible. Beauty can come and go.”

The designs will be created during the “Sacred Earth” show before the actual presentation.

Another aspect of the show are Warli paintings. Traditionally, these were created by indigenous people of the Warli tribe just north of Mumbi who do these paintings on walls and, like the kolam, will wear off in time, only to be redone, always in natural elements.

These take center stage through the projections, and even if the projection doesn’t work will still be involved in the show, Robinson said.


The show is the center piece of Ragamala’s visit to Austin, but not the only element. On the Thursday before their Friday, Feb. 28, performance, the group will be at the Yoga Studio in Austin where a master class will be offered at 6 p.m. This is open to the public and free and serves as an intro to the dance style, especially considering that yoga has an influence in the dancing Ragamala displays.

“The timing worked out well for us,” Knoebel said. “We’ve been in talks in the past, and they are really great with working in the community, and that’s what we’re working with in this series. With the the rise in popularity of yoga in Austin we thought this was going to be a great fit.”

This Sunday, at the Hormel Historic Home, Austin pediatrician, Dr. Vigay Chawla and her daughter-in-law, Elizabeth, will present a meal with family recipes from northern India.

“It’s a chance to experience the culture beyond that art form,” Knoebel said.

 Leaving an impression

The event will no doubt leave people talking, but organizers hope that will also raise people’s appreciation of other cultures.

“(I hope people will walk away) with a sense of beauty and exploration,” Robinson said.

The event will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 28. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door. people will be able get one free ticket for a child 12 and under with the purchase of an adult ticket. Contact the Paramount’s Box Office for more information.

Upcoming Paramount 2014 Performance Series shows

•March 21 — James Sewell Ballet: Lover

•March 27 — The Spencers: Theatre of Illusion

•Sept. 27 — Tim Patrick and His Blue-Eyes Band:

A Tribute to Frank Sinatra

•Oct. 24 — Tonic Sol-Fa