March 12, 2015

The Color of the Twin Cities – Rock the Ordway

Re-posted from The Ordway Center’s blog:

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“Well, that was different,” I overheard one of the audience members say after yesterday’s performance by Ananya Dance Theatre. I smiled to myself. What she was really saying in Minnesotan speak was, “I’m not entirely sure what to think of this nontraditional thing I just witnessed–and I don’t want to offend anyone–so I’m going to make as neutral an assessment as possible.”

Yes, last night’s performance was “different.” It wasn’t the opera; it wasn’t the symphony. Yes, it was challenging (some of the dancing was evocative of death and dying; some evoked sex). Yes, it brought up issues we don’t necessarily like to think about (i.e. the hardships and tragedies of modern, urban life). But it was important. And beautiful. And I applaud the Ordway for commissioning such a provocative, meaningful performance.

So, what made some people squirm last night? What challenged our pleasant, theatre-going selves?

It started with a map.

When my guest, Cindy, and I walked into the theatre, a friendly usher handed us a map, examined our tickets, and told us we would be starting on the third floor at the “Wishing Well.” The Wishing Well was one of five different interactive sets spread across the Ordway. The idea was to merge audience and performers, spectators and dancers. Each set had a unique theme and a distinct message revolving around social justice, human rights, and the meaning of humanity. There was The Empress of Whimsy and Fortunes, Life Force, Wishing Well, Longest Day’s Journey, and Veins. My favorite set was Wishing Well, in which we were each invited to jot down a wish on a piece of rice paper, hand the paper to a young girl seated in front of a basin of water, and watch as she swirled the wish into the water and it disintegrated into muddy flecks. The effect was fantastic. The image of a bowl full of wishes, swirling and melding together, is pure magic.

After Part One, we all filed into the new concert hall (with members of Ananya Dance Theatre bending and twisting around us) and found our seats. Then, Part Two began.

Although Part Two took place on stage, I wouldn’t call it traditional. The members of Ananya (all dressed in vivid colors) explored what the human body can do with elaborate twists, foot stomps, yoga-like poses, and both subtle and grandiose movements. As I watched, I could feel a narrative unfold. I could see birth, death, agony, chaos, sex, community. It was incredibly expressive and, at times, hard to watch.

The dance entitled Our Bodies Hold Struggle was particularly challenging. Amid minor-key music and wailing that made me think of demons, the dancers spasmed on the stage or flopped like dying fish. I could feel the misery and despair. I wanted it to stop. And then I realized…

That’s the point.

Life is not always neat and comfortable. Sometimes it’s painful and tragic. Sometimes it’s hard to watch. But it’s important that we do watch; it’s important that we recognize the illness in the world and attempt to cure it.

That said, the entire performance was not so serious. Some dances celebrated life, community, togetherness. Some mimicked water (the lifeblood of our cities). The bright colors and gorgeous movements left a kind of lingering hope.

As I exited the theatre, I couldn’t help feeling that I had just witnessed something important. And I wanted others to witness it too. My sincere hope is that Ananya Dance Theatre gets the recognition it deserves for the role it plays in our community. It brings color, vibrancy, and consciousness to the Twin Cities.

Kate Leibfried is a freelance writer and marketer. She writes novels under the name Kate Bitters.