Ragas Meet Airs at The Irish Memorial

Indian dance at The Irish Memorial

Indian dance at The Irish Memorial

Until the first chords of Burning Bridget Cleary’s “Saucy Sailor” began over the loud speaker at The Irish Memoral on Penn’s Landing on Saturday, the idea of marrying an 6,000-year-old form of Indian dance called Bharatanatym with Irish music seemed, well, like a stretch.

But it wasn’t. The rhythms of the Celtic folk song harkened to the ancient beat of Indian music. Ragas, as it turns out, are a lot like airs.

Shaily Dadaila, founder of Usiloquoy Dance Designs, saw her dream of performing her beloved Indian ballet to Celtic and Indo-Celtic tunes when she and her troupe of dancers performed twice at The Irish Memorial on Saturday afternoon and evening. Her dance production, Ragas and Airs, is partially funded by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and is still in development. But there was enough choreography to present a half-hour’s worth of the graceful and evocative dance, which tells its stories not only through footwork, but with hand movements and facial gestures.

This wasn’t the first time that music from both traditions came together. The troupe also performed to 17th century music that was British and Irish in origin, but with Sanskrit lyrics, and to tunes by modern-day Irish jazz musician Ronan Guilfoyle who wrote them to combine both Irish and Indian traditional music.

After an early morning rain, the weather broke into sunshine and heat—but with a breeze that kept the audience cool—as the troupe performed on a rented stage in front of the 60-ton bronze sculpture depicting Irish fleeing the famine and arriving in America.

In an interview before the performances, Dadiala said the monument resonated with her the moment she saw it a few years ago, just after arriving in the US from India to begin a master’s program in pharmacy.

“You see all the people descending from the ships, all leaving home and missing it for the rest of their lives. I understood that,” she said. Read more of that interview here.

View our photos of the performance of “Ragas and Airs.”

Author: Denise Foley

Denise is one of the founding editors of irishphiladelphia.com and a veteran magazine and newspaper writer and editor.

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