MCA Stage presents Song of the Jasmine, an experiment across the forms of Western jazz and South Indian music by the dance and music ensemble Ragamala Dance Company and saxophonist and composer Rudresh Mahanthappa. United and inspired by their shared bicultural identities as Indian Americans, Mahanthappa and Ragamala's co-artistic directors, Ranee and Aparna Ramaswamy, celebrate their ancestors' traditions and interpret them with their own distinct voices. The staging is completed by a striking canopy of brass bells and costumes created in India. The performance takes place April 10-12 in the Edlis Neeson Theater at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.
Song of the Jasmine explores the interconnectedness of three themes constant in contemporary Indian culture: the spiritual, the sensual, and the natural. Ranee and Aparna Ramaswamy, a mother-daughter team-who often look at important texts and interpret them through dance and music-were guided in this work by the writings of the 8th century Tamil mystic poet Andal's Sacred Saying of the Goddess (or Nachiar Tirumozhi). Mahanthappa's sound merges South Indian and Western forms with an emphasis on improvisation.
Song of the Jasmine is the artists' newest work and marks first-time collaborations for both: Mahanthappa with dance, and Ragamala with improvisatory jazz. Ranee and Aparna Ramaswamy perform with three dancers from their company, alongside Mahanthappa who plays with a quintet assembled of versatile jazz and South Indian musicians: Rez Abbasi (electric guitar), Raman Kalyan (South Indian flute), Rajna Swaminathan (mridangam/South Indian percussion), and Anjna Swaminathan (South Indian violin). The piece is touring nationally.
Ragamala Dance Company is recognized as one of the Indian diaspora's leading dance ensembles in the traditional genre of Bharatanatyam. Based in Minneapolis, Ragamala has toured extensively nationally, including the American Dance Festival and the Kennedy Center, and internationally, including the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the National Centre for Performing Arts in Mumbai, India. Aparna Ramaswamy is the first Bharatanatyam artist to be named by Dance/USA as a "25 to Watch." Her mother, Ranee Ramaswamy, was named a 2012 United States Artists Fellow.
Rudresh Mahanthappa is a leading jazz saxophonist and composer who creates hybrid sounds bridging progressive jazz with South Indian classical music. He has performed at Carnegie Hall, Royce Hall, and the jazz festivals of Chicago and Montreal. A Guggenheim Fellow, he has been awarded New York Foundation for the Arts fellowships and commissions from the Rockefeller Foundation, Chamber Music America, and American Composers Forum. The Jazz Journalists Association named him alto saxophonist of the year for four years in a row.