Ananya Dance Theatre (Photo by V. Paul Virtucio)
By MAYA NISHIKAWA
AAP staff writer
MINNEAPOLIS — Ananya Chatterjea and her fellow dancers are trying to ignite inspiration and action with their latest production “Tushaanal: Fires of Dry Grass”.
“When you see the work. It’ s not highly intellectualized, it’s experiential,” explained Chatterjea, Founder and Artistic Director of the Ananya Dance Theatre (ADT).
The theatre, now in its seventh season, combines art and social justice in a unique way. The artistic pieces not only bring to light the stories of the oppressed, in particular women, but the dialogue also provides a channel for change.
“We explore ways in which global communities of color are devastated and look at solutions artistically and how solutions by people of color can be found working from the ground up,” said Chatterjea.
One of the ways ADT works on solutions is by partnering with community groups, such as Refugee and Immigrant Women for Change. Together with the women’s coalition, Chatterjea hopes to create access to change and movement towards social justice. “Tushaanal” is the second work in a four-part series highlighting violence, trauma, resistance and empowerment experienced by communities of color. All of the pieces in this latest production surround the theme of gold, from it’s beauty and artistry to greed and violence.
“The stories we tell are abstract and metaphoric juxtaposed against each other. Stories come together from the ancient valuing of gold by the Mayans and the Aztecs to what is happening today with killing from gold mining and dowry deaths,” Chatterjea said.
The ADT strives to show where all of these stories intersect.
“So much of appetite happens because of gold.”
The social justice dialogue is extended through discussion after performances and with blog posts by the performers. Chatterjea says the audiences often inspire her with their questions and comments. She says the audiences get different things out of the performances.”
“I hope they get beauty, power, and stories. A lot of the time people will share that they love the performances for one or all of those reasons, whether its the aesthetics, choreography, or social justice.”
Chatterjea was trained in an Indian classical dance form called Odissi. She came to Minnesota in 1998 and wanted to start a dance company with people of color, which she felt was needed in the community. In 2003, she held auditions and created the ensemble. There are now eleven dancers in the company, some who have been with the group since the beginning. It’s very important to Chatterjea that the company remains an ensemble.
“It’s very important for us to work together. It’s not a hierarchy. When we are dancing, we are dancing together,” she explained.
The dancers come from many different ethnic and cultural backgrounds and types of training. Chatterjea feels they each provide their own unique interpretations to the choreography. The ensemble includes Sarah Beck-Esmay, Ananya Chatterjea, Renee Copeland, Kenne-Camara Cottman, Alexandra Eady, Gina Kundan, Lela Pierce, Brittany Radke, Mette Towley, Chitra Vairavan, Hui Niu Wilcox, and Negest Woldeamanuale.
Chatterjea describes her choreography as a contemporary dance form created by deconstructing classical Indian dance language and extending it with the traditional practices of yoga and a martial arts form called Chhau from Eastern India. She hopes to inspire others, especially Asian American youth, to create their own unique expression through dance.
They need to remember they can reach within, create something contemporary from that traditional cultural space. They can do this too. They can work with traditions in a cultural context and make something contemporary, “ she added.
In addition to serving as Artistic Director of ADT, Chatterjea is also the Director of Dance and Associate Professor of Dance in the Department of Theater Arts and Dance at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. She is the winner of the 2011 Guggenheim Fellowship for Choreography. She is also the recipient of the 21 leaders for the 21s Century Award and the JJ social Justice and Human Rights Award for her work weaving artistic excellence, social justice, an community building.
The ADT will be performing “Tushaanal” at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis September 8 through 11. Ticket information can be found at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/184270. You can find more information bout ADT on their facebook page located at http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Ananya-Dance-Theatre/100361914765