Hannah Landsberger

Ragamala Dance Company's Fires of Varanasi: Dance of the Eternal Pilgrim is a beautiful, meditative piece that makes the most of the Kennedy Center's new outdoor space on the REACH campus. For this reviewer it was the first in-person performance since Covid began, and its transportive qualities fulfilled my desire for immersive art in a way that I have been desperately missing.

The piece represents the ancient city of Varanasi, a sacred site for Hindus and Buddhists, and the incredible set design and choreography do a great job of bringing a sense of holiness to the Kennedy Center. The company utilizes a shallow water feature to represent the Ganges River, and lit torches and Willy Cessa's beautiful lighting design create an otherworldly mood.

Ranee Ramaswamy and Aparna Ramaswamy's choreography is beautifully executed by the ensemble. Even the tiniest movement is given attention and perfectly timed to the music. All of the small details-the position of the dancers' fingers, the slightest head movement, the expert use of ghungroos (ankle bells)-combine to create a rich tapestry of choreography. The piece moves seamlessly between solo and ensemble moments, and even during a solo the rest of the company remain on stage, worshipping at the river and adding to the piece's immersive atmosphere.

The score, which includes original compositions by Prema Ramamurthy, Ranee Ramaswamy, S. Sakthivel Muruganatham, and Lalit Subrama, is really fantastic. Some moments are filled with great energy, and a contagious rhythm. In other moments the music is lower and more mournful, the correct accompaniment to a sacred pilgrimage.

Fires of Varanasi was a wonderful reintroduction to in-person performance and dance, and I highly recommend checking out the Ragamala Dance Company's work or another performance at the Kennedy Center's REACH campus.

Fires of Varanasi: Dance of the Eternal Pilgrim ran at the Kennedy Center REACH campus on September 12th and 13th. You can see what else is upcoming at the Kennedy Center here.