In our first two years, 2004-2006, Ananya Dance Theatre’s artists focused on building a sense of community and trust and investigating why it was so essential to do so. The discussions of that process shaped the foundation of the company’s work and set a particular tone for its culture.
What does it mean when women and femmes from global Black and brown communities learn about each other’s histories and participate respectfully in each other’s cultural and artistic practices? How do we dismantle instincts of mistrust and self-preservation at the expense of community, ingrained through years of living inside systemic injustice? How do we instead build new histories of collaboration and alliance across and with acknowledgement of our differences?
Most importantly, how does dancing together enable us to move these questions?
With few models to follow about how to build a dance company based on a political orientation – women and femmes who identified as being from local and global BIPOC communities and committed to critical explorations of community, intersections of gender, race, sexuality, caste, and class, memory, history, and identity – the first two years allowed for reflections about the kind of company and artistic practice we wanted to build.
We asked ourselves: What practices must be integral to bridge the divide between professional dance, as defined by the mainstream, and community-building? How can choreography reveal the parallel existence of many narratives? How can we invite activists and organizers to look at our artistic practice as a way of creating change? How can we practice artistic excellence while remaining inclusive in our philosophy?
Our conversations enabled us to confront the histories that have divided local and global Black, Indigenous, and communities of color without pressure to arrive at a resolution. Danced images, moving from one vision to the next, became our way of asking questions, letting them breathe in the space and become manifest in the new rhythms we created. Coming to breathe together, even as we journeyed through different routes, became an important metaphor for building alliances across difference.
Choreographic principles emerged and became part of our company’s culture as we learned how to build a community that embraces our differences. For example, we celebrate the structural differences of our bodies and identities, and uniform ensemble work sometimes fails to highlight that complexity. We learned how variations on a theme can be articulated with different movements that arrive at the same point, while still respecting our differences. We came to value precision and dancing together without necessarily conforming to dancing sameness.
Our first two years of abstract, non-linear choreographic narratives were built through a dialogic and workshop-based creative process that we described as “mining the richness in the dancers.” This inward focus led us to understand the intense and urgent work of building relationships within our communities and laid the foundation for subsequent years.