July 7, 2011
I was asked to be part of an artistic performance for Refugee & Immigrant Woman for Change (RIWC) – International Women’s Day at St. Catherine University. The performance was speaking to gender equity. I was the narrator, reading statements from various family and community members in a refugee woman’s life. The performance was an adaptation by Kao Kalia Yang to highlight to highlight findings from the RIWC focus groups conducted late last year.
I was Kartee, the narrator, the only one speaking through the performance as different family and community members, dancers, wrapped a scarf around the women in the middle who were named Riwa. Kartee summoned these members to join Riwa on stage.
Here is my take on the performance and how it touched me. These are thoughts written the day of the performance, March 8, 2011.
Strong women are global
Kartee is Riwa. She lives inside Riwa’s body. She is part of Riwa’s community. She is part of her culture. Kartee has been feared in times past and present. But she is still with us. Riwa need not worry. Kartee is there. She just needs Riwa to light the spark…
As women we forget that being a leader is not a bad thing. Wishing, wanting, needing more is not a bad thing. Kartee is a spirit we must exercise. When Kartee is silent, sometimes it doesn’t do us any good.
Kartee is the symbol of strength in the performance that was done by Ananya Dance Theater at the International Women’s Day Conference at St. Cate’s on March 8, 2011. Kartee is strength and Riwa has to do what she can to get through the days and doesn’t know what standing up for herself will bring her. But Riwa knows lying down is not the answer.
Kartee grows in Riwa. Riwa , her family, and her community learn to accept and appreciate Kartee. And Kartee finds her space and place in Riwa’s life.
As a woman of color living in the Midwest I have had to re-learn the importance of being true to myself. I knew how to be true to my family and my community, but not to myself. Somewhere along the way I learned through example, media, and social cues not to take care of myself first. That was selfish. But tapping into Kartee women regain themselves again and that makes their communities that much stronger.
Kartee lives within me and joins me, now on my journey – our journey.
I ask Kartee to take up space in our lives.
June 25, 2011
Life has its own way of teaching process and projects have their way of deciding the time they will need to manifest themselves. Indeed, when, in 2006, we were talking about embarking on making a piece about environmental justice, little did we realize that we had just landed on the tip of an iceberg! That one year of working in collaboration with environmental justice advocates transformed our creative process and allowed us to realize the urgent need for sustained artistic inquiry into these deep issues inside human lives.
So, what began as one piece in 2006 became a three-year trilogy about different facets of environmental justice, and what we learned in those three years, the questions we learned to ask, the hidden “footprints” and silenced human costs we learned to watch out for, have become part of our research and creative process forever.
These learnings carried us into the next project. I had already learned that in order for artistic work to create a ground swell of questions—which undergirds the social justice work in our creative process—we have to engage with the questions of injustice over a length of time, so that we are immersed in a sustained inquiry without looking to produce answers, so that we have the time to imagine the pain and loss as well as the resistance and alternative perspectives.
The focus on violence on women also reconnected me with some of my earliest work as a choreographer, but now I am able to connect specific issues of violence with larger systemic violences. So the anti-violence quartet which we launched in 2010 works through stories of lives of women through four naturally occurring elements that have been harnessed as capital in ways that have resulted in tremendous violence on women across the world, particularly in global communities of color: land, gold, oil, and water. It seems, as we are progressing in our research, both scholarly and creative, that we are ultimately etching the meta-story of how different forms of violence have dogged women’s lives through time. Yet so often, we have failed to mark them as violence. And so often, these are stories hidden, stories that have slipped through the cracks of “important” stories and news items, stories that have to be re-imagined from fact and emotional connections.
As we are working on understanding how gold has worked in our lives, I am realizing that this is a very different project than last year’s, when we worked on land. The element we focused on last year was mud, land that sticks to skin, and we traced stories of displacement, exile, dislocation, replacement, and home. This year we are figuring out how stories of loving gifts of gold rings sit side by side with dowry deaths in India, the murder of anti-mining activists in Papua New Guinea intersects with the gold rush that partially fueled the apartheid regime in South Africa, how the mercury pollution of drinking water from artisanal gold mining in Colombia contests the valuation of incredible craftsmanship with gold across so many cultures, and how the inherent invaluable properties of gold makes it indispensable for use in electronic equipment that so many of us use daily, and that ultimately makes us all complicit with the violence that recurs in sites apparently far away from us. The dancers are asking: we find gold beautiful, we desire gold jewelry, but how do we account for the blood on that gold?
In asking these complex questions, I am working with amazing collaborators: the dancers of course, each of who brings powerful perspectives and artistry into the room, and the brilliant Laurie Carlos, who keeps on pushing us towards the more risky yet necessary artistic choices. The brilliant score that Laurie has been producing with composer and instrumentalist Greg Schutte, vocalist and instrumentalist Mankwe Ndosi, and vocalist Pooja Goswami Pavan, has brought ADT’s work to another dimension. As a range of cultural influences cross in and out of each other in the score, often dynamically coming together, sometimes pulling away from each other, brings alive one of the concepts I have treasured most in working with ADT’s fierce women: that these women are from somewhere specific culturally and politically, but they are also from nowhere and everywhere, they are women of the world, different yet able to dance together. They are women who are able share space and share artistry, but they do not look or dance the same. These are the most likely truth-tellers of these stories we are trying to dance, the griots that will carry us towards making different histories, imagining different possibilities for women…
I am excited to be working on Tushaanal, fires of dry grass, fires that are not high, but are persistent, spreading quickly and difficult to put out. In my mind, Tushaanal is also the fire of an inconsolable affliction. Indeed, when I think about the number of women who lose their lives, who are stuck in loss and pain, because of this continuing circle of violence, I am filled with tremendous grief and rage. I am channeling all of this emotion into the choreographic process, and hoping that Tushaanal can convey the multiple, contesting, emotions that make this fire golden.
June 25, 2011
As part of our efforts to continuously connect to our communities we have decided to enter into the realm of blogging. Research conduced by our choreographer, dancers and collaborators informs our work as part of our creative process. For the first time, ADT is opening this process to the public, something that has only been available to our performers and collaborators. This is our way to deepen conversations, spread awareness, and continue the dialogue outside the studio and beyond the performance.
Two of the main contributors come from the ADT Board of Directors. Lori Young-Williams, local writer will reflect on the research and rehearsal process. Visual artist, Ayanna Muata, will create image-collages that explore the thematic foci. Additional contributions will concentrate on community events, interviews with our collaborators and local Artists/Activists, and company spotlights.
Please join our conversation by commenting and contributing often!
April 8, 2011
Minneapolis, Minnesota-Ananya Chatterjea, founder of Ananya Dance Theatre (ADT), has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for Choreography from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. According to the foundation’s website, “The Fellowships are awarded to men and women who have already demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts.”
Chatterjea will celebrate the Fellowship during an ADT Fundraiser on Monday, April 11, at the Southern Theater, from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. (For additional information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org). During the fundraiser, the company will perform an excerpt from the new work “Tushaanal: Fires of Dry Grass,” the second piece in a four-year anti-violence project exploring the experiences of women of color across the globe. The piece premieres at the Southern Theater in September. The fundraising event also includes a performance by Laurie Carlos, an excerpt from last year’s “Kshoy/Decay,” and a discussion of the singular choreographic technique Chatterjea’s developed to kinetically communicate with audiences.
March 12, 2011
Join us for a dynamic preview of
“Tushaanal: Fires of Dry Grass”
A Fundraiser for Ananya Dance Theatre
Monday, April 11
6 – 8 p.m.
1420 Washington Avenue S.
Engage in lively conversation with Ananya and the dancers.
Admission: $25, $50, $100, $250, $500, $750, $1000 or more!
Price includes food, wine, and a chance to win
two tickets to “Tushaanal: Fires of Dry Grass.”
RSVP by Friday, April 1 to
Ananya Dance Theater
Or make a donation online