We create original contemporary dance theater at the intersection of artistic excellence and social justice. Our work strives to dismantle hierarchies and to build liberation, inspired by the lives and dreams of BIPOC women and femmes around the globe. We will celebrate our 20th season in 2025.
- •Reach Out in Solidarity with Global Liberation Struggles
- •Reach In for Intersectional Justice
- •Practice with Rigor & Excellence
- •Center Interconnected Relationship
- •Build Feminist Ensemble
- •Uplift Difference and Aesthetic/Cultural Specificity
In creating an artistic community of BIPOC women, womxn, and femmes who dance together with intention toward a mission of social justice choreography, we dance as a methodology of dismantling the hierarchies of race, gender, caste, class, sexuality, nationality, ability, and other identifiers that have come to be entrenched in mainstream culture. We chisel our aesthetic with granular attention because we must uphold multiple, layered, intersecting stories of our communities and those we hold sacred, through the articulation of our spines and the energetic impulses of our limbic extremities.
We are committed to the broader movement of undoing the violences of racism, casteism, white supremacy, toxic masculinity, Empire, colonization, slavery, genocide, and other aggressions through the power and poetry of our dancing.
We believe in the liberation that rhythm, breath and curvilinearity inaugurate.
Our pranam, a salutation to the Earth on which we dance, pays homage to our Dakota and Anishinaabe relatives with whom we stand at every moment of our dance.
What we do
We create original dance theater, drawing on social justice themes inspired by the lives and dreams of BIPOC women, womxn, and femmes from around the globe. In dancing stories where the struggles, triumphs, and transformations of our communities occupy the center, we empower artistic voices, shift the landscape of mainstream culture, build relationships, and move toward equity and beauty.
At home and on tour, we connect with transnational communities to interweave dance with stories of justice.
Our practice includes (1) devised concert stage productions; (2) workshops, classes, and dialogues with people from refugee, immigrant, Indigenous, Black, and of color communities, with particular focus on building solidarities and healing; and (3) participatory performances that invite audiences to embody possibilities of moving together, negotiating space, finding rhythm, and sharing humanity with people they might not know. With these three streams, we grow deep local roots with wide-reaching branches.
We have premiered one original work with commissioned score annually since 2005. Each work results from the collaborative efforts of our artistic director, company artists, and guest artists who work in the realms of music and sound composition, spoken word, and lighting, scenic, and costume design.
Since 2013, our performance home has been The O’Shaughnessy Women of Substance series at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota. We also have performed at The Cowles Center for Dance and the Southern Theater in Minneapolis, a variety of small indoor and alfresco venues, and were commissioned to create an original, full-length work for the opening of the Ordway Center’s Concert Hall in 2015.
We have performed and conducted residencies on tour in 11 states and the District of Columbia. Internationally, we have performed at the Harare International Arts Festival, Zimbabwe; National Academy for Performing Arts, Trinidad; Bethlehem International Performing Arts Festival, Palestinian Territories; Aavejak Aavaaz Festival, Pragiyoti International Dance Festival, and Natya Ballet Dance Festival, all in India; Ocean Dance Festival, Bangladesh; and the Crossing Boundaries Festival, Ethiopia, supported by the U.S. State Department.
We began as a community-based ensemble in 2004, when Artistic Director Ananya Chatterjea called together Black, Indigenous, and women and femmes of color who shared experiences of being on the outside of American concert dance and interests in creating socially relevant art.
In June 2018, we acquired our first facility, located on University Avenue in St. Paul at the confluence of the Rondo, Little Mekong, and Little Africa neighborhoods. We named our facility the Shawngram Institute for Performance & Social Justice. From there, we rehearse, conduct classes and workshops, and host a variety of community activities.
We seek a paradigm shift in the mainstream dance world. As a professional ensemble of BIPOC women/femme artists who believe in the transformative power of contemporary dance theatre and identify as cultural activists, we seek to collectively embody an innovative contemporary transnational feminist aesthetic that realizes Black and brown liberatory story-arcs.
Our artistic work unfolds through Yorchha™, our devised contemporary feminist dance form, which embodies our response to the Western/Euro-American movement practices that dominate the contemporary dance world. Yorchhā proudly claims the descriptors “contemporary” and “innovative” even as it celebrates its creation from an intentional deconstruction and reassembly of traditional Odissi, Vinyasa Yoga, and the martial art Chhau. While Yorchhā is rooted in principles of South Asian movement forms, we shape its expression to move beyond an affiliation with “Indian culture” that offers constrictive understandings of “Hindu” identity.
In the rehearsal room, Yorchha and our choreographic methodology of Shawngram – “resistance” as organizing principle – intersect an intricate counterpoint of detailed choreography, music, sound, and text; of structured improvisation; and of audience engagement. Our performances conjure a world in which the transnational BIPOC women/femme artists of Ananya Dance Theatre are located in places of cultural specificity, while simultaneously released from the narrow identity politics that constrain us from connecting. We shine our lights on each other, reveling in the liberation of mutual beholding.
Our work invites audiences to participate in our strategy of #occupydance, the movement of dancing as civic action.