'Audacious' Cross-Disciplinary 'Song of the Jasmine' Premieres in New York This Week

New work explores affinities between Bharatanatyam, jazz

A major new cross-disciplinary performance piece arrives in New York this week when Lincoln Center Out of Doors in association with Asia Society presents Song of the Jasmine, a collaboration between the acclaimed Bharatanatyam dance ensemble Ragamala Dance and composer Rudresh Mahanthappa (alto saxophone) — joined, live, by Rez Abbasi (guitar), Rajna Swaminathan (mridangam), Raman Kalyan (Carnatic flute), and Anjna Swaminathan (Carnatic violin) — at Lincoln Center's Damrosch Park Bandshell on Thursday, August 7. Admission to the performance is free.

On Wednesday, August 6, Asia Society presents an artist talk (also free) featuring Ranee Ramaswamy and Aparna Ramaswamy of Ragamala Dance along with Rudresh Mahanthappa in a conversation with Asia Society Director of Global Performing Arts and Cultural Initiatives Rachel Cooper that will offer insights into the creative process that went into the making of Song of the Jasmine.

The new piece weaves between past and present and composition and improvisation as it traces the progress of the symbolic jasmine flower between the world of mortals and the divine. A Ragamala Dance program note sheds light on the work's inspiration:

In Song of the Jasmine, we explore the interconnectedness of the spiritual, the sensual, and the natural that is the lifeblood of the Indian psyche. We are guided by the writings of the 8th-century Tamil mystic poet Andal, whose Nachiar Tirumozhi (Sacred Sayings of the Goddess) — a text of 143 verses — reveals Andal's intense longing for Vishnu. ... In Andal's direct communication with the divine, she upends established ritual and uses the power of art (song, dance, and poetry) to traverse the landscape between the infinite and the intimate.

Song of the Jasmine furthers its creators' longstanding interest in exploring affinities across artistic forms. Ragamala Dance has collaborated with Balinese dancers and Taiko drummers, while Mahanthappa's well-received touring project Kinsmen (an Asia Society commission) found common ground between American jazz and South Indian Carnatic music, among other influences.

Improvisation within structure is an integral part of both Bharatanatyam and jazz, which may be one reason why the new collaboration has already struck critics as artistically right. After Song of the Jasmine premiered at the Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis in May, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune hailed the work as Ragamala Dance's "most audacious experiment to date. ... It exemplifies what happens when artistic boundaries (real or artificial) are radically tested, if not knocked down altogether."

Watch the trailer below for a preview of the work, come to Asia Society for the artist talk on Wednesday evening, and see the full work for yourself at Lincoln Center on Thursday.

Related Link:
Lincoln Center Out of Doors website