The Joyce Theater, open to audiences once more, has been remodeled. I don’t imply by the brand new seats, which appear to be brighter, cleaner variations of the frumpy previous ones. I imply by the presence of Ragamala Dance Company, the Minneapolis-based troupe that’s inaugurating the theater’s in-person fall season.
For “Fires of Varanasi: Dance of the Everlasting Pilgrim,” the stage ground and backdrop are a pristine white. Over a set of extensive steps on the rear hold bells at numerous heights. Three swimming pools of water, shallow and rectangular, replicate gentle. The place is elegant and serene.
Varanasi (previously known as Benares), positioned on the Ganges River, is an historical metropolis, holy to Hindus, who journey there to be cleansed by its sacred waters or cremated after loss of life. I’ve been there myself, and whereas I bear in mind the religious gentle on the steps of the riverfront ghats, my American vacationer recollections are primarily of sensory overload and crowds.
On the Joyce, there wasn’t a lot of a crowd — the theater wasn’t half full on a wet Thursday night. And the manufacturing, with set and lighting design by the French wizard Willy Cessa, is much less about sensory overload than theatrical idealization. What this system notes name “a sacred pilgrimage which seeks the magical connection between the divine and the human,” I strategy as a secular viewer, searching for aesthetic transcendence. By the tip of the present’s 90 minutes, I discovered some.
Ragamala, directed by the mother-daughter crew of Ranee and Aparna Ramaswamy, is a wonderful firm. Their devotion to the Bharatanatyam type and to treating that lineage as a dwelling language is at all times radiantly clear. Even whereas dancing to a recorded rating, as right here, they embody the music (by Prema Ramamurthy, amongst others) with integrity.
Ranee, the mom, is a grasp of abhinaya, the side of classical Indian dance that’s most like mime. When she takes middle stage to mutely recount the parable of the Ganges falling from heaven, you realize you’re within the eloquent palms of a fantastic storyteller, even if you happen to don’t perceive the language. And when she’s accompanied by the extraordinary Karnatik vocalist T.M. Krishna, whose decrease vary tunnels subterranean caverns, her cautious artwork glimmers with among the strangeness of the divine.
Aparna Ramaswamy is a dancer of excessive readability and precision, and on the finish of the present, when she appeared within the dancing type of the god Shiva, she gave me the shivers. Her youthful sister, Ashwini, extra flirtatious and springy, awoke the present within the center.
At that time, it wanted some spurring. It’s not simply that the primary half, a gathering at daybreak, is gradual and considerably static. All through the manufacturing, members of the 11-person forged mill about as pilgrims, doing their ablutions and yoga. These naturalistic (however not messy and lifelike) actions appear to not inhabit the identical world because the presentational dancing, even when the extras be part of within the dance, like townfolk in a Broadway musical or a Bollywood film.
The group sections are lovely in how they generate rhythmic pleasure whereas shunning visible synchronicity, however the weaving collectively of the ensemble experimentation with the normal solo sections is just too unfastened or too timid. The fires of Varanasi finally burn scorching, however the theatrical flame glints.
Ragamala Dance Firm
Via Sunday, on the Joyce Theater, Manhattan; joyce.org.