From left are Berit Ahlgren, Ashwini Ramaswamy and Alanna Morris-Van Tassel in "Let the Crows Come" at University at Albany. (Photo by Jake Armour)
Differences don’t have to divide. Rather classical Indian dancer Ashwini Ramaswamy showed that differences united can create something moving and beautiful.
And on Sunday night at the University at Albany Performing Arts Center, that something was Ramaswamy’s shimmering triptych “Let the Crows Come” — a homage to the transformative power of crows, which took flight with a trio of disparate, but divine dancers.
Bharatanatyam devotee and choreographer Ramaswamy gathered Gaga-trained modern dancer Berit Ahlgren and Afro-modern mover Alanna Morris-Van Tassel for this hour-long work that explored the mysterious nature of the brilliant black bird. And while I was often baffled by the story they told, their movement kept me intrigued, wondering how this beckoning of birds will take flight.
The piece, with music composed by Jace Clayton, Prema Ramamurthy and Brent Arnold, was, as the program notes, based on the Hindu epic poem Ramayama, about a prince who must rescue his wife from a demon.
While the Odyssey-like trials were not obvious, the dance did take its audience on a journey. Divided up solos, beginning with Ramaswamy, the strength and abilities of each dancer commanded the stage that was decorated with one item — a large bowl piled high with rice.
Like many polished Indian dancers, Ramaswamy is a study in gesture. She began with her undulating fingers, dipped in red, and her circling wrists to create the vision of a bird flying off. And while at first pleasantly at ease, her prominent and striking eyes, along with the stomp of her heels started to relate another tale — one of fear and distress. She dropped down low in a stance of attack and pounce, a fighter for an unseen war.
As she departed, Ahlgren took her turn. Bent backward, keeping watch on the sky, Ahlgren’s persona was large and feisty. As her music turned more percussive and confrontational, she matched it, becoming, as her arms shaped like wings told, a large bird herself. She shot arrows and flew.
Morris-Van Tassel took it home with her generous solo. Bent low, she looked to be gathering a harvest, a bountiful meal, in a focused but contented manner. In her, there was a sense of relief and happiness as she appeared to honor the beloved. In her, all things lovely came to the conclusion sealed by a kiss she blew.
In the end, the trio met up at the bowl, scooped it up a handful of the rice and let it slide through their fingers in a cascade of release and abundance.
Where did the crows, symbols of transformation, lead? It looked to be nirvana.