May 5, 2015

Reflections about Ananya Chatterjea's residency at the University of Utah

Ananya Chatterjea, artistic director, Ananya Dance Theatre, was in residence in the Modern Dance Department at the University of Utah, April 21-23, as part of the “Fusion: Art & Social Justice Series.”

Chatterjea’s work interweaves the biographies and histories of women of color, the environment and performance in various global contexts, and physicalizes politics, choreographing identities and relationships in multiple arenas. She also questions and challenges tradition, artistic beliefs and practices, gender politics, and how we discuss and perceive modernity.

utahResidency activities included three talks, “Contestations in the History of Odissi,” “Thoughts on Contemporary Dance,” and “Socially Engaged Dance & Performance: Aligning Dance and Social Justice.” Chatterjea also presented a live performance at the Marriott Center for Dance and taught two master classes.

The residency was organized by Visiting Assistant Professor A’Keitha Carey, whose own doctoral research explores dance as an agent for societal change. She became interested in Chatterjea’s work while an undergraduate student.

“As a student, I read her work and become even more familiar with her in my doctoral program,” Carey said. “She is truly a wonderful model, illustrating how theory and practice coalesce producing educational, transformative, and transgressive works that express her theme of a call to action. We are both interested in this idea of dialogue and how these conversations do in fact provide opportunities for people to ‘stand together in difference.’”

Carey reflected about the residency in an open letter to Chatterjea:

The “shared heat” and “shared humanity” that was imparted upon the university is something that I can only equate to the phenomenal teachings of Chicana feminist Gloria Anzaldùa. Anzaldùa introduced the term nepantla which is “a Nahuatl word meaning ‘in-between space’” (Keating 2006). This liminal space is a place where one is able to disidentify from the mythology of white supremacy, allowing oneself to see oneself not as inferior but as an equal, a whole being. This theory allows for transcendence and a subversive consciousness that fractures and ruptures identity politics that often subscribe to the belief system that increasingly fictionalizes the superiority of the white race, subjugating people of color (Keating 2006).

A'Keitha Carey

A’Keitha Carey

Those of us who mediate and facilitate this process are called nepantleras. Nepantleras are “the supreme border crossers. They act as intermediaries between cultures and their various versions of reality . . . They serve as agents of awakening, inspire and challenge others to deeper awareness, greater concocimiento, serve as reminders of each other’s search for wholeness of being” (“Speaking Across the Divide” 20).

Ananya, you are a Nepantlera! Your entrance in this space was exactly what was needed – not a week before – or a moment after – right now – at this time. Lives have been touched, some women have found their voice, and you provided a snap shot into MY reality of what this journey can and should be as a nepantlera. Your power and presence are sublime, evoking a sense of desire that includes social change, clarity in one’s ideas and philosophies about life, purpose, and practice and specifically how one can be a change maker simply by listening and retelling the stories that we hear.

I want to offer words of encouragement to you and the warrior women known as Ananya Dance Theatre. The journey that you are on is one that will disrupt the cultural and social norms, one that is “painful [during] dimensions of this world-traveling [and border crossing]” (Keating 9). Your defiance of the expectations placed upon you, the themes that are discussed in your work, and the POWER that you present and evoke are threatening to the insecure and weak (in mind and spirit) resulting in “rejection, ostracism, and other forms of isolation” (Keating 9) but I am writing to applaud, restore, and embolden you for your work, passion, and the voice that you provide for many.

You stated “there is a way of knowing that comes from knowing your body.” The freedom from “knowing my body” allows me to communicate with a clarity that includes embracing my gifts, loving my body, and accepting and exploring the sensual imparted by the divine. Because of this “knowing” I can share my “bodily truths,” encouraging other women to share their stories. This sentiment was reified during your visit. You also mentioned “some stories need to be told over and over again.” You and your company provide the foremost example of how to occupy space, thoughts, and personhood so that these stories can be projected for what they are, “beauty and truth.”

In closing … you mentioned that a part of your purpose is to “remind young women of their power.” I felt this reclamation of my own power (through your presence) which I have purposely been (re)negotiating out of fear of the aftermath. But I am “ready to do the work.” Your presence here at the University of Utah will long be remembered. You have left your DNA in the building, in the soil, and the souls of many. Because of you, I walk bolder into the fire, I can fight another day because of what you have deposited into my spirit.

I/we find my/our voice through the roar of the Lioness… shine on and shout with the power and pleasure of knowing that across the nation, we hear you, we see you, and we stand in love, light, and in support of the freedom, transformation, and strength that Ananya Dance Theatre provides for many…