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Obama nominates Indo-American to National Council of Arts

July 25, 2012 10:39 IST
Bharatanatyam dancer and teacher Ranee Ramaswamy, 60, has been nominated by United States President Barack Obama as a member to the National Council of Arts, a key administration position. 

Ramaswamy told that she was elated over the President appointing her to this prestigious Council.

"I am extremely honoured and humbled to be nominated by President Obama to serve in this position," she said, and noted, "As an artist of East Indian descent, I have worked in Minnesota for over 30 years, creating an awareness for Bharatanatyam dance in the United States."

Ramaswamy said, "My strong interest has always been in collaborating with artists and art forms to create work that bridges cultures, and it will be this spirit of collaboration that I will bring to this position."

Ramaswamy is the founder and co-artistic director  -- with her daughter Arpana, 35, also a critically acclaimed Bharatanatyam artiste -- of the Ragamala Dance Company, based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and has been a master choreographer, performer, and teacher of Bharatanatyam dance since 1978. 

Her work has been commissioned by the Walker Art Center, American Composers Forum, and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and has been supported by the National Dance Project and the Joyce Foundation.

Ramaswamy's tours have been highlighted by the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the American Dance Festival, and the National Centre for Performing Arts in Mumbai, and last year Ragamala wowed audiences at the Maximum India Festival at the Kennedy Center.

Among her numerous grants and awards are 14 McKnight Fellowships, a Bush Foundation Choreography Fellowship, and an Artist Exploration Fund grant from Arts International.  She is the recipient of the 2011 McKnight Distinguished Artist Award and was named '2011 Artist of the Year' with Aparna
by the Minneapolis StarTribune. 

Ramaswamy, an alumnus of the University of Madras, from where she received her bachelor of arts degree in Fine Arts, who since 1984 has been a disciple of Alarmel Valli, one of India's greatest living masters, and has worked with such celebrated artists in the caliber of poet Robert Bly, jazz musician Howard Levy, and legendary composer/violinist D L.  

Last year, when Ramaswamy and Ragamala performed at Maximum India at the Kennedy Center, Alicia Adams, the Center's vice president of international programming and dance, said Ragamala was only one of two Diaspora groups invited to perform and "they definitely brought their A-game to Washington, DC."

She described Ramaswamy and Ragamala as "exceptional dancers and an exceptional troupe," and said, "If it were a competition, they could compete with the best of them. We had all the top companies from South India."

In recent years, Ragamala's signature performance has been 'Sacred Earth' which has been performed in five different venues since the Cowles Theater in Minneapolis' premiere last September, with 20 more performances on tap through the end of 2012. Later this month, Ragamala is slated to perform at the American Dance Festival in Durham, North Carolina.

When Ramaswamy won the McKnight Foundation's 2011 Distinguished Artist Award, she was the first dancer and youngest person, at age 59, to win this lifetime achievement recognition.

At the time, Vickie Benson, McKnight's programme director for the arts, said, "She has worked with choreographers and musicians from just about every genre, as well as writer and visual artists -- always, somehow, creating work that is transformative."

Benson said, "The distinguished artist panel saw all of this and more in her work and life as an artist who decided to stay in Minnesota even though she could have gone anywhere."
Aziz Haniffa in Washington DC