Ranee Ramaswamy named 2011 McKnight Distinguished Artist


Ranee Ramaswamy, founder of Ragamala Dance and Theater

Photo by Ed Bock

The McKnight Foundation has named Ranee Ramaswamy -- founder, co-artistic director, and choreographer of Ragamala Dance Theater -- as the 2011 McKnight Distinguished Artist.

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The honor is bestowed each year upon an artist who has made "significant contributions to the quality of our state's cultural life over the course of their career." It also comes with a $50,000 cash award.

It's a significant recognition for a woman who only started dancing professionally at the age of 30, but went on to create a company that has earned national accolades by making an ancient Indian dance form not just accessible but enticing to modern audiences.

"This is the first time a dancer has received this award, and for the McKnight Foundation to have chosen Bharatanatyam (classical south Indian dance) as the art form makes it all the more exciting," Ramaswamy wrote in an e-mail. "This has been my life's work, spreading the greatness of this dance form all throughout Minnesota for the last 30 years. I was looking at a map of Minnesota the other day and I couldn't find a town that I haven't visited! It feels wonderful to be recognized for doing something that I care so much about -- educating western audiences about Indian dance and culture -- and I plan to continue teaching, choreographing, and performing for many more years."

In addition to staging traditional Bharatanatyam performances, Ragamala Dance and Theater has also collaborated with artists from a variety of other backgrounds, including tap, jazz, ballet, African dance, Japanese drumming and poetry.

Previous McKnight Distinguished Artists include publisher Emilie Buchwald, composer and choral director Dale Warland, sculptor Judy Onofrio, writer Bill Holm, theater director Bain Boehlke, printer Kinji Akagawa and sculptor Siah Armajani.