Fires of Varanasi, Joyce Theater. Photo by Steven Pisano

“Ragamala, directed by the mother-daughter team of Ranee and Aparna Ramaswamy, is an excellent company. Their devotion to the Bharatanatyam style and to treating that lineage as a living language is always radiantly clear.” —The New York Times

“[the] universal and visual atmosphere is intoxicating, no matter your background…a wholly magnificent piece of live art.” – The Chicago Tribune

Ragamala Dance Company’s 30th season continues with Fires of Varanasi, presented March 15, 2023, at 7:30pm at McCarter Theatre Center, 91 University Place, Princeton, NJ. Tickets start at $25 and are available at

Rooted in the expansive South Indian dance form of Bharatanatyam, Ragamala Dance Company manifests a kindred relationship between the ancient and the contemporary. In this evening-length performance, eleven dancers conjure a realm where time is suspended and humans merge with the divine. Award-winning creators Ranee Ramaswamy and Aparna Ramaswamy imagine a metaphorical crossing place that enters a ritualistic world of immortality, evoking the birth-death-rebirth continuum in Hindu thought to honor immigrant experiences of life and death in the diaspora. Fires of Varanasi evokes the spiritually electric city, described by mother and daughter in conversation with essayist Pico Iyer as a metaphor for the interconnectedness of life and death. The work features an original, recorded score and the lighting designs of French scenic and lighting designer Willy Cessa.

Fires of Varanasi: Dance of the Eternal Pilgrim was commissioned by The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts; co-commissioned by the Harris Theater for Music and Dance; co-commissioned by and developed in part at the Hopkins Center for the Arts at Dartmouth College and The Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts, Cal State Northridge and Northrop, University of Minnesota; with additional commissioning support from Jay and Susie Gogue Performing Arts Center at Auburn University; Meany Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Washington; American Dance Festival; and The Joyce Theater Foundation’s Stephen and Cathy Weinroth Fund for New Work.

The Meany Center for the Performing Arts Dance Series is generously underwritten by Delaney and Justin Dechant and Ira and Courtney Gerlich in honor of Katharyn Alvord Gerlich.

About Ragamala Dance Company

Ragamala Dance Company is the vision of award-winning mother/daughter artists Ranee Ramaswamy and Aparna Ramaswamy. Over the last four decades, Ranee and Aparna’s practice in the South Indian dance form of Bharatanatyam has shifted the trajectory of culturally rooted performing arts in the United States to create an exemplary company within the American dance landscape. Through both intimate solos and large-scale theatrical works for the stage, Ranee and Aparna empower the South Asian American experience. By engaging the dynamic tension between ancestral wisdom and creative freedom, they reveal the kindred relationship between ancient and contemporary that is urgently needed in today’s world.

Featuring Aparna Ramaswamy as Principal Dancer, Ragamala has been commissioned and presented extensively throughout the U.S., India, and abroad, highlighted by the Kennedy Center (Washington, D.C.), Joyce Theater (New York), Lincoln Center (New York), Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival (MA), Walker Art Center (Minneapolis), American Dance Festival (Durham, NC), The Soraya (Southern California), Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, International Festival of Arts & Ideas (New Haven, CT), Cal Performances (Berkeley), 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), among others.

Ragamala at 30

The word ‘Ragamala’ directly translates to ‘garland of melodies.’ Every day in India, people string together

garlands of flowers as offerings to the gods, hoping the deities will vanquish the darkness and fill their life with radiance and meaning. Our work weaves together artistic and cultural practices from past generations to find new values within our current circumstances. The garland represents a collaborative ethos that unveils the synergies between people from every walk of life, finding and forming a language that speaks across time and cultural difference to probe the universal aspects of humanity. Ragamala at 30 continues to seek radiance and meaning by connecting the ancient and current ways in which we as human beings engage the world around us.

Ranee Ramaswamy is Founding Artistic Director of Ragamala Dance Company. Her creative vision is driven by a profound commitment to the artistic lineage imparted to her through four decades of training under legendary Bharatanatyam dancer/choreographer Padmabhushan Smt. Alarmél Valli, intertwined with a pioneering spirit of innovation and collaboration across culture and discipline. Since immigrating to the U.S. in 1978, Ranee has been a trailblazer, working tirelessly to create a place for her culturally rooted work on the major stages of the U.S. dance landscape. Her choreographic work has been commissioned and presented by the Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center, Joyce Theater, Northrop, Walker Art Center, American Dance Festival, and Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi, among many others. In September 2021, Ranee’s Fires of Varanasi opened the Kennedy Center’s 50th Anniversary celebration. Ranee serves on the National Council on the Arts, appointed by President Barack Obama. Her recent honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship, Doris Duke Performing Artist Award, Bogliasco Foundation Fellowship (Italy), Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center Research Fellowship (Italy), United States Artists Fellowship, McKnight Distinguished Artist Award, Bush Choreography Fellowship, and 14 McKnight Fellowships for Choreography and Interdisciplinary Art, among others.

Aparna Ramaswamy is regarded in the U.S. as one of the exemplary soloists in Bharatanatyam. As a choreographer, performer, and culture bearer, Aparna mines the artistic, philosophical, and intellectual depths of her dance form with the intent to evolve ancestral and cultural knowledge in the diaspora as a catalyst for contemporary human thought. Her four decades of training in Bharatanatyam under legendary dancer/choreographer Padmabhushan Smt. Alarmél Valli is the bedrock of her creative aesthetic. As Executive Artistic Director of Ragamala Dance Company, Aparna has catalyzed a bold new vision for Bharatanatyam in the diaspora. Her choreographic work ranges from emotionally spacious yet intimate solo presentations to large-scale, multidisciplinary theatrical works. Her work has been commissioned and presented by the Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center, Joyce Theater, Northrop, American Dance Festival, Silk Road Ensemble, and Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi, among many others. In September 2021, Aparna’s Fires of Varanasi was selected to opened the Kennedy Center’s 50th Anniversary celebration. Aparna’s honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship, Doris Duke Performing Artist Award, Bogliasco Foundation Residential Fellowship (Italy), Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center Research Fellowship (Italy), Joyce Award, four McKnight Fellowships for Dance and Choreography, and the 2022 Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award from Carleton College, among other.

About McCarter

An independent not-for-profit performing arts center located between New York City and Philadelphia – and on the campus of Princeton University – McCarter is a multi-disciplinary creative and intellectual hub offering theater, music, dance, spoken word, and educational programs for all ages that inspires conversations, connections and collaborations in our communities. We lead with our values of justice and joy, and we seek beauty in belonging. Celebrated for developing new work and winner of the 1994 Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre, world premieres include Christopher Durang’s Vanya, Sonia, Masha and Spike (Tony, Best Play), Tarell Alvin McCraney’s The Brother/Sister Plays, Emily Mann’s Having Our Say. Renowned artists who have appeared at McCarter include: Alvin Ailey, Yo-Yo Ma, Audra McDonald, David Sedaris, The Moth, Terence Blanchard, Roseanne Cash, the rock band Lake Street Dive, Shawn Colvin, more. McCarter connects with the community year-round via various community reading event opportunities, digital programming, on-site classes and in-school residencies. McCarter and Princeton University share a long history of unique partnerships and creative collaborations.