Carlton Turner is all about creating narratives: true narratives that challenge lazy assumptions about the world and what art and artists are—narratives that confront false limitations on what art can say and how it can change the world. Since 2001, Turner has worked with Alternate ROOTS, a regional arts membership organization based in Atlanta; he is now its executive director. He brings to the job a combination of skills: fundraising, arts administration, experience as a touring artist, community activism, and fostering artists and culture-makers. He keeps an eye on history and society in order to catalyze conversations and progressive ideas. The goal: to create a new narrative about culture. Arleta Little, arts program officer for the McKnight Foundation, says: “For me, Carlton demonstrates the capacity of culture to craft character and to create community.”
Carlton, Ananya Chatterjea, artistic director of Ananya Dance Theatre in the Twin Cities, has said that in addition to being deeply supportive of artists, you are “more than an artist, [you are] a platform builder.” Do you think that description fits?
When she says platform, it fits—in terms of creating platforms for changing age-old conversations. We are talking about shifting policy, equity in the arts; about understanding colonialism and looking at long-term racial disparities and how those things have an impact on arts ecosystems.
Are you a working artist now?
Part of my current role is as a touring and a working artist. Part of my work is to maintain my identity as an artist. It helps me to maintain integrity—what the work is about. The further I get away from that, the more I drift away from being an advocate for artists. That’s why I continue to engage my skills as an artist and pursue the development of things that speak to my soul.
If platform fits, what are some of those platforms? How do they fit in today’s landscape of arts and society?
In the world of yesterday, we were working from a singular narrative, and arts have been, to this point, advanced on that singular narrative. All voices were not honored with the same equity and on the same platform.
Today, the conversations have to be a little more based in analysis—analysis of how capitalism works, how patriarchy works, how government works, and how movements work. What we are dealing with today is based on a continuum of issues and challenges that have never been reconciled. That is evidenced by what happened at Standing Rock, for example—invaded and burned to the ground and people arrested.
You mention Standing Rock and talk a lot about intersectionality. Where do you see the intersections today? Where is the best leverage for change?
Intersectionality is the place where we find strength, find the challenges and interconnectedness. It is where I find that my own challenges [as a person of color] are connected to age, LGBT, gender, and other issues.
Hopefully, intersectionality helps us put an end to the competitive “oppression Olympics.” We are working to associate, understand, and connect the oppression I experience with other peoples’ oppression. This is contrary to the way that capitalism deals with communities and society and helps us realize what democracy means.
We also have to look at the role of philanthropy. Working intersectionally is difficult when the philanthropic sector has siloed issues. Often, they see their work as [finding] solutions to individual issues, working in individual communities, without solving the underlying issues. Doing this is a false promise.
Today, philanthropy is cut off from activist roots. Our work continues to be intersectional and to be a recasting of the narrative of the United States into one that is about imperialism and the occupation of indigenous land. Our work is interconnected in an ecosystem of change in which we are seeing communities that struggle as extensions of ourselves rather than “other.” This is the front line of cultural transformation.
What are you working on today to address this?
What I am most excited about is working with the Intercultural Leadership Institute, in which Alternate ROOTS has joined with the First Peoples Fund, the National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures, and the PA’I Foundation. It’s a collection of 30 Fellows from around the country, peer experts who are building an intercultural experience that allows us to move into spaces with a more pluralistic understanding of our existence. In our work, we realize that our identity is not complete without the others around us.
The Institute brings together arts leaders from different communities to look at and honor leadership development in ways that are not framed by the dominant culture. We travel to different locations around the country to gain community wisdom that can uplift. We pay a lot of attention to the ways in which a lot of different leadership cultures think of the land, for example.
This is a significant shift in how we see our relationship to our surroundings. If you are building policies around the land, what you get is very different from a policy that values profit over people. Now is the first time communities of color and indigenous peoples are defining leadership on their own terms. This operates from a very different premise: our cultural practices that don’t always get to lead the way.
In the context of this developing and emerging intersectional movement, what purpose do art and culture serve?
Art and culture are informing, framing, and delivering ideas. Art and culture have a transformative ability to change ideas. It is a response to a “white-washed” America that’s produced overkill, in Baltimore, Charleston, Ferguson, and Standing Rock. We have found ourselves backed into a corner like a cornered black panther—out on a limb or out of our minds.
It is about connecting historically relevant events to what is happening today. Acknowledging that history is to confront the fact that, in order for there to be an America, there had to be a resource, slave labor, to secure an economic future. Acknowledging that many of us were slaves until 1865 and didn’t get to vote until 100 years later—and that all of this was backed up with a fictitious narrative of normalcy.
We are responding to the premise of the historical “three-fifths citizenship” allowed to African Americans, [which has been] cemented in our psyche; this concept of a second-class citizenry. Our work is actively demanding that we be seen and heard; it’s saying we are human. It’s about performing in the streets as well as changing the public perception of who gets to perform on stage.
We are challenging the notion of who the arts are for. When I was asked to respond to the Survey of Public Participation in the Arts at NEA in 2009, what I laid out was how the survey was flawed. It looked at opera, symphony, and dance, and how people are consuming art in those venues. In reality, it’s difficult to find a community that does not have artistic practice embedded in its culture. These practices in these broad communities are involved in how we make meaning out of this journey we are on as human beings. But the arts infrastructure only holds up a few selected works or practices as being valid, worthy of the museum show or the big concert hall.
Much of the [philanthropic and arts administration world] has promoted change, but most of it was superficial. It was never intended to change the structure. [It’s like when, in] Mississippi, we were integrating children into a school system that was still run by the white supremacist structure; it didn’t put a dent in segregation, and it affirmed the power structure.
Today’s challenge is that we don’t have enough discourse with each other to come to a collective assessment of how these systems impact our lives. It’s difficult to have conversations with our white neighbors, because they are the recipients of the faulty information created by politics as a form of theater: faux journalism that fixates the public on fear and safety. It’s performance propaganda.
How do we bring about radical change to the systems so as to create ones that are not just a reflection of the times in which they were built? We keep asking ourselves, what is the role of arts? And as Martin Luther King Jr. might ask, what are we risking?
Clarence Whiteis a writer who is also an editor, publicist, and contributor to the Saint Paul Almanac. His publications include “Smart Enough for Ford,” in the anthology Blues Vision: African American Writing from Minnesota. He lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Engaging Dance Audiences is administered by Dance/USA and made possible with generous funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.
Washington, DC – Dance/USA, the national service organization for professional dance, is pleased to announce that Engaging Dance Audiences (EDA), the national funding program focused on refining and sharing dance audience engagement practices, will award $1,112,000 in funding to 21 organizations. The 21 grantees from 11 states were selected through a rigorous national review by a peer panel. Since EDA’s inception in 2008, Dance/USA has awarded more than 70 grants and related assistance totaling over $5 million. EDA was established through the generosity of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. See the list of grantees here.
Building on past rounds, the emphasis in this fourth round of EDA is on refining existing engagement programs that have shown success at reaching dance audiences and communities. EDA round four grantees feature projects that meet one of two objectives: 1) The projects refine an existing engagement program, focusing on the quality of the experience for the participating audience or community. 2) The organizations have a track record of engaging African, Latina/o, Asian, Arab, and/or Native American audiences, the LGBTQ community, people with disabilities, communities of faith, or incarcerated people and/or their families.
“We are very grateful to the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation’s commitment to audience engagement practices in the national dance field,” said Dance/USA Executive Director Amy Fitterer. “I am enthusiastic that EDA Round Four will support a wide range of grantees and projects that continue to reach specific audiences and address important societal issues. We look forward to continuing to share the learning of Engaging Dance Audiences with the broader field.”
EDA Round Four grantees include dance companies, presenters, and service organizations, and represent a range of budget sizes and business models, from those that are fiscally sponsored to multi-million dollar nonprofits. In order to engage with a wide range of audiences, grantees will partner with a range of organizations such as middle and high schools, community colleges, historically Black colleges and universities, museums, churches, neighborhood advisory committees, city agencies, parks, senior centers, and cultural/community centers. The cohort of grantees represents a broad spectrum of dance forms and styles, including African, ballet, Bharatanatyam, hip-hop, Irish, Mexican folkloric, movement-theater, Odissi, physically integrated, samba, stepping, tap and other percussive forms, and a wide range of contemporary forms of expression.
EDA Round Four grantees and projects include the following:
Abraham.In.Motion will combine multiple generations of the LGBTQ community in creative activities about love, around the tour of their piece Dearest Home, which was developed through a similar participatory process.
Alabama Dance Council will build out its Community Forum Series, facilitated by guest and local artists who are Native American, Latina/o, African-American, Asian, and white, to take place in three cities around Alabama.
Heritage Works will expand its Cultural Scripts program, exploring the role of the Black body within Detroit’s Muslim, African, and African-American contexts. Story circles, dialogue and performances will be facilitated by guest artists Nora Chipaumire, Lela Aisha Jones, and NDeye Bana NDiaye, in conjunction with Stephanie McKee.
Holly Bass|360 will sustain its work with Black teen girls involved in the juvenile court system in Washington, DC through Liberation Labs, which explore movement and writing, culminating in performances both inside and outside detention centers.
“This new round of Dance/USA EDA funding reaches a robust mix of forms, geographies and communities of concern, vividly illustrating the variety of settings within which audiences can connect to dance,” said Maurine Knighton, program director for the arts at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. “We are pleased to support Dance/USA in sustaining and growing the vibrancy of dance in communities around the country.”
The $1,112,000 total grant support includes $876,000 in grantee project support and $236,000 in grantee core operating support. The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation generously offers the core operating support to provide greater stability to the arts sector and to deepen its commitment to groups identified as leaders.
The EDA Project Manager is Suzanne Callahan, founder of Callahan Consulting for the Arts, who has managed EDA and other re-granting programs for Dance/USA and other organizations.
About the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation
The mission of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation is to improve the quality of people’s lives through grants supporting the performing arts, environmental conservation, medical research, and child well-being, and through preservation of the cultural and environmental legacy of Doris Duke’s properties. The Arts Program of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation focuses its support on contemporary dance, jazz, and theatre artists, and the organizations that nurture, present, and produce them. For more information, please visit www.ddcf.org.
We believe that dance is essential to a healthy society, demonstrating the infinite possibilities for human expression and potential, and facilitating communication within and across cultures. We are committed to honoring, nurturing and advancing dance through the lens of diversity, inclusion and equal opportunity in all aspects of our programming, services and organization.
Dance/USA is the national service organization for the professional dance field. Established in 1982, Dance/USA sustains and advances professional dance by addressing the needs, concerns, and interests of artists, administrators, and organizations. By providing national leadership and services, Dance/USA enhances the infrastructure for dance creation and distribution, education, and dissemination of information. Learn more about Dance/USA by visiting our website, www.danceusa.org.
This article was written for and posted by Arts in a Changing America, a five-year initiative that seeks to explore and understand the dramatic demographic transformation of the United States and its profound impact on arts and culture, led by Roberta Uno and based out of the California Institute of the Arts.
This is a shout out to artists of color committed to working in a progressive paradigm, through a non-mainstream aesthetic: Thank you for doing the work you do, despite the lack of resources, the crushing responses from grants, and for keeping on going, somehow, when it seems you will never see light of day, for making something emerge from nothing.
Let this be a platform for gathering many, many stories, where we can see each other. Let us create an avalanche that gathers tremendous energy and ultimately moves us towards collective visibility.
“When a purportedly objective and neutral process or system constantly produces racial inequities, then that process is neither objective nor neutral. It is simply that the biases built into that process or system are not recognized or have not been unmasked.”
-David Mura, writer & arts activist
As a choreographer working deliberately to bring stories, experiences of girls and women from global communities of color, into performance, I recognize this struggle and its crushing effect on our bodies and minds and our ability to continue. I am tired of the systemic refusal to understand nuance and difference within our work and the use of “representation” of an anointed few as a replacement for real conversations about equity.
I am not talking simply about the denial of grants from behind an opaque wall of “criteria” variously constructed—which a broad base of artists can identify with. Nor am I talking about the difference between how the system of arts funding regards smaller community-based arts organizations and large mainstream white-identified institutions. And, I understand that different consequences and ratings along the “popularity index” will result when artists choose either (a) to craft artistic processes that might not be validated by huge audiences or media attention, but are asking urgent, transformative questions, or (b) to produce art experiences that draw in lots of audiences and attention, often representing diverse aesthetics, but focused on entertainment.
Rather, I am talking about the ways in which artists from different communities of color become racialized and positioned in different ways and how we constantly get knocked down when we refuse to play along. We see it in the ways that little concrete feedback is offered for failed grants, in that trailing off of the voice, “when it comes to the work samples, unfortunately…”; we see it in the sideways look of curators and decision-makers who say “yes, yes, it’s just that we’re not looking for your kind of work…”; we see it in the avoidance of conversations about the art itself, the dismissive or non-responses that re-emphasize power positions.
I know how hard it is not to internalize the sinking feeling of “not quite good enough” despite all the other affirmations that you have earned in your journey thus far. It is almost impossible to gather up the pieces of your emotional wreckage, put a hint of steel in your voice, and ask how a certain “kind” of work that is admittedly prioritized came to be determined as the gold standard.
I also mean to refocus the lens of my argument here on the marginalization of progressive Asian American art-making under the enduring legacy of tired visions of multiculturalism. AAPI [Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders] artists are most often commandeered to speak in the voice of “tradition,” and thus mark and re-remark our own consumable difference in contemporary art. Or we are applauded for our ability to participate in mainstream aesthetics—repeat classical canons in our languages so to speak—and thus reaffirm the power of Euro-American categories to contain many different kinds of bodies. Generally, the price of such inclusion is the obligatory performance of gratitude, and its cost is the demonstrated “failure” of any charge of racism.
I have said this in so many ways: Othello through the lens of Kathakali, for instance, is great, but I just don’t want to do it. I want to create my own stories in my own terms and choreograph them in my own movement aesthetic. I don’t want to create in translation.
“It’s not about knocking on closed doors. It’s about building our own house and having our own door.”
-Ava Duvernay, filmmaker, 2012
I say this in a context where different racializations of artists of color, all struggling for visibility, has meant occasional opportunities for representation, often hand-outs from neo-liberal policies of “multiculturalism” and “diversity” masquerading as benevolence. Often individuals in AAPI and all poc communities are called into the halls of privilege for their “extraordinary” work. While it is imperative to celebrate the talent and hard work of individuals, let us refuse the ways in which institutional “exceptionalism” is deployed only to divide and belittle. It is a powerful amnesiac, making us forgetful of the communities that have stood by us and made our work possible.
Yet I know that many artists who refuse binarized categories that leave no room for progressive art-making practices. These artists, to whom this post is dedicated, are on the ground, creating alternative paradigms that offer nuanced space for difference, for understanding how the intersecting axes of race-, gender-, sex-, class-, nationality-based hierarchies land on our skin. They do so with little resources because systems of arts funding and presenting are skewed and they cannot fulfill the entertainment/tradition/multiculturalism checkboxes. They do so despite struggling to find “belonging” in communities whose support might mean the difference between sustainability and impossible survival.
“The calls I am getting are from educators, not from curators.”
–Wing Young Huie, prize-winning visual artist, who works with photography to document untold stories of marginalized communities. Huie was responding to a question, after an inspiring presentation of his work, about how he manages his projects.
AAPI artists are often expected to work with “community,” which many of us are committed to doing because we value our location inside these contexts, but we differ on what “community” means. The systems in which we function expect us to understand “community” in narrow, fossilized, ways that directly align us only with the people of our racial and cultural heritage. Yet, we have always known that communities, and people within them, are complex, and we often find affinities across the borders imposed on us, with folks from other communities of color, or from other parts of the world, for instance. These synergies, where we have to understand difference, power, collaboration, in our own terms, grow us as artists and move us forward in our artistry. Yet, these relationships seem to have little of the power that is afforded to more resourced collaborations between white/mainstream artists and “others,” and to relationships that are brokered by decision-makers.
I have tired of saying it repeatedly: South Asia is not the space-holder for fantasies about ritual and tradition (where all performance must be “classical” and “divine”), or desire for entertainment (the ubiquitous presence of Bollywood). Our feet have grown weary in protests outside big organizations, refusing the scripting of Asian Americans through the racist tropes of Ms. Saigon and South Pacific—apparently the only ways in which AAPI artists can participate in these highly-resourced productions. It is time to focus on rejuvenation as we claim the razor-edge of revolutionary art-making.
I began this post to clearly lay out the systemic ways in which our self-confidence, our valuation of our work, are diminished, and to encourage us to find other ways, albeit with little or no resources attached to them, to see each other in the work we do. If the institutions that make decisions do not see the kinds of work we are doing to transform the communities and spaces in which we are located, it is on them.
I salute all of you for your relentless keeping on, artistically speaking. I implore all of us to remember the wounds we have all had imprinted on our bodies, and refuse the isolation that would keep us disempowered. I commit to seeing my comrades in this long drawn-out journey that is our lifework and invite us all to do the same. Let us see each other’s work as much as we can. Let us know more about each other’s work so we can advocate for each other when we have an opportunity. Let us think through each other’s work with care and offer meaningful critique that can help us all grow. #wallofresistance #turningoureyes #seeingeachother
I want to urge us to talk about the aesthetics of our work, our notions of beauty, our embodiments of line. Let us talk about how we structure meaning in metaphoric forms, and also how certain kinds of abstraction seem easier for mainstream absorption than others. Let us talk about ways to counter the seemingly benign racism of multicultural inclusion, where representation often comes at the cost of certain kinds of erasures and translations. I mean no criticism of AAPI and other poc artists who want to take on and excel in choreographic structures and movements forms that originated in white mainstream culture. I simply am asking for space for irreducible difference, marked in bodies and themes, and in aesthetic frames and structures of meaning-making. I urge us to remember that beauty can be recalcitrant, can allow us access in certain kinds of pleasure and joy, the syntax of differently knowing the world and artistic world-making. Let us talk together about our complicated navigations through cultural practices marked as “Tradition” and innovative creative methodologies, mostly unmarked but always signifying white, Euro-American legacies.
I had once planned a coming together of artists of color where we would see each other’s work and develop a language for talking about each other’s work. The idea was to use the powerful tool of social media to infuse knowledge about each other’s work into the mainstream. I didn’t succeed in getting resources to make these meetings happen, so I faltered on the project. But it is time to plan the first version of this: the AAPI artist summit for advocacy, where I want to invite progressive AAPI artists to speak about each other’s work powerfully. The web is a powerful space to meet in lieu of physical meetings. I will call out to artists whose work I know or want to get to know better to build the base for this forum.
Ananya Chatterjea is an art-maker, artistic director of Ananya Dance Theatre: People Powered Dances of Transformation™, and Professor of Dance at the University of Minnesota.
Stretching the practice of rasa (emotional expression) from Indian classical dance theater, Ananya Dance Theatre artists invoke the aesthetic of the Dakini in performance. Tantric Hinduism imagines the Dakini as a wrathful female spirit, dancing with frenzy and ferocity. While the Dakini traditionally embodies destruction, chaos, and transformation, her force ultimately captures the union of emptiness and wisdom. This duality is seen in our generation of Aanch (heat) when fast and furious dancing echoes histories of devastation and depletion, followed by images of rebirth, sustained breath, and fluid movements.
Dakini is infused inside of our work and emerges from juxtaposing stories of different women’s individual and collective struggles against tremendous injustices. Charged with laying bare the experiences of such pain and trauma, ADT performers imbue our technique, Yorchha, with overwhelming dramatic effect, breaking classical equanimity and the expected neatness of presentational conventions. Harnessing emotional and performative excess, the Dakini energy is expelled from the performers through large gestures, big spinal movements, tremors and shaking torsos, references to oozing bodily fluids, wide open mouths, tangled hair, and deconstructed costumes.
The qualities of the Dakini contrasts with the spirit of the gentle warrior, marked by precise footwork, specific alignment, and yogic extensions that are part of our signature style. Both aesthetics are core to ADT’s philosophy and complement one another, maximizing the complex expressivity to articulate the range of experiences of women of color, layered with struggle, pain, courage, joy, exhaustion, love, and exhilaration.
The Dakini and gentle warrior aesthetics in our work offer unique pathways into the poetry and power of dance. Dakini allows us to reimagine beauty as the strong center, the core energetic lock inside of our bodies, supporting the performance of chaos expressed through vigorous and provocative movements. The gentle warrior recognizes beauty in classically inspired shapes and harmonious rhythms.
Dakini lives in the possibilities of audiences’ and performers’ discomfort and insists that the role of women’s rage and their spiritual ecstasy be seen in the arc towards equity. This tumult resolves through our choreography of connection and reminds us that the artful pursuit of justice is often uncomfortable and difficult, promising a greater sense of community when working together.
– Ananya Chatterjea with Michele Steinwald, Gary Peterson, Gina Kundan
A native of New York City’s Lower East Side, Carlos became a seminal American theater artist and original player in NYC’s avant-garde performance scene, and developed new characters and aesthetics for the stage for more than 40 years.
A gifted writer, her oft-anthologized pieces, including “White Chocolate,” “The Cooking Show,” and “Organdy Falsetto,” represented daring and successful forays into abstract aesthetics.
She received an OBIE Award for Lady In Blue, the role she created in Ntozake Shange’s “for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf.” She won two New York Dance and Performance Awards (Bessie Awards) as choreographer of “White Chocolate” and “Heat.”
Her work as a collaborating poet, dramaturg, and performer with the Urban Bush Women is the stuff of performance legend. She was a unique director, who helmed the premieres of new work by writers Sharon Bridgforth, Carl Hancock Rux, Lourdes Perez, Sue Lori Parks, Zell Miller III, and Daniel Alexander Jones.
Laurie Carlos, 2010 • Photo V. Paul Virtucio
Carlos, along with Robbie McCauley and Jessica Hagedorn, formed the performance group Thought Music in the mid-1980s, producing the revolutionary performance work “Teenytown.”
With Ananya Chatterjea and Marilyn Amaral, Carlos created a dance poem, “Marion’s Terrible Time of Joy,” in 2003.
Laurie Carlos, 2010 • Photo Virtucio
Carlos worked as co-artistic director with Marlies Yearby at Movin’ Spirits Dance Company, as an Artistic Fellow at Penumbra Theatre, curated the “Non-English Speaking Spoken Here” series at Pillsbury House Theatre, and served as project manager for The Naked Stages series at Intermedia Arts.
The Joyce Awards is the only program supporting artists of color in major Great Lakes cities. The Chicago-based foundation has awarded nearly $3 million to commission 55 new works since the program started in 2003.
The O’Shaughnessy will commission Ananya Chatterjea, artistic director of Ananya Dance Theatre, to develop and stage a new production called “Shaatranga” in 2018. Meaning “seven-colored” in Chatterjea’s native Bengali, the work will celebrate women’s labors as community sustainers and change agents, using blue jeans as metaphor for shared humanity and the multifaceted and different journeys of women of color to achieve justice. The 18-month collaboration will include students from St. Kate’s and refugees living in the Twin Cities.
“This support from The Joyce Foundation will broaden the collaboration that The O’Shaughnessy and Ananya Dance Theatre began in 2012 to share women’s stories through performance and inspire passion for justice around the globe,” says Kathleen Spehar, executive director of The O’Shaughnessy. “The ‘Shaatranga’ collaboration – deepening dialogue with St. Catherine students and our community – will amplify the collective voices of women.”
A distinctive feature of the Joyce Awards is that a winners’ work must include the process of engaging community members to inform and shape their art. Community forums, workshops, panel discussions, social media input and one-on-one conversations will help influence each artist’s final presentation.
“It is exciting to see such a powerful focus not only on the creative aspects of these works, but also on how the artists plan to involve diverse communities in their development and presentation,” said Ellen Alberding, president of The Joyce Foundation. “We are confident these productions will do a great job of telling stories that can foster civic participation and cross-cultural understanding, and we are proud to support them and showcase the artistic talent of the Great Lakes region.”
Additional 2017 award winners
The Cuyahoga Community College Foundation in Cleveland won a Joyce Award to commission new jazz work by Grammy Award-winning trumpeter and composer, Terence Blanchard. The Free State Theater in Chicago will commission a new play, Meet Juan(ito), from playwright Ricardo Gamboa. Finally, Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music will commission Quantum Music/Englewood from musicians Ernest Dawkins and Rahul Sharma.
The National Performance Network (NPN), including the Visual Artists Network (VAN), is a national organization supporting artists in the creation and touring of contemporary performing and visual arts.
“Shyamali” is an evening-length dance work created by ADT and inspired by the ways that women across the world repeatedly talk back and embody dissent against injustices, despite daunting consequences.
“Shyamali” will receive its world premiere performances at The O’Shaughnessy in September 2017.
Weaving movement with text, speech, breath and song, “Shyamali” will create a rich, multi-lingual performance celebrating the histories and stories of women’s courageous acts that may have slipped through the bonds of public memory. The metaphorically staged, juxtaposed stories in this work will be choreographed in Yorchha, the company’s unique vocabulary of contemporary Indian American dance, and will be produced through collaborations with several design artists.
The creation of “Shyamali” will proceed through a community-engagement process and will incorporate several strategies for audience engagement during the performance.
Support for the research and development of new performances is rare, and funding sources often require artists and presenters to define new works before that process has even begun. The Creation Fund was established to provide direct and unencumbered assistance to the process of creation and to encourage others to do the same.
The NPN Creation Fund contributes a minimum of $13,000 directly to artists toward the commissioning of new work. NPN Partners apply for Creation Fund support for projects by artists who live either outside or inside the initiating NPN Partner’s community. This flexibility encourages NPN Partners to work with emerging artists in their own communities while introducing and promoting these artists’ work to the NPN Partners at large.
Click here for more information about Creation Fund Projects.
“Shyamali: Sprouting Words” is a National Performance Network (NPN) Creation Fund Project co-commissioned by the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater, Pittsburgh, PA, in partnership with the Asian Arts Initiative, Philadelphia, PA, the Maui Arts & Cultural Center, Kahului, HI, the Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles, CA, The O’Shaughnessy at St. Catherine University, St. Paul, MN, and NPN. The Creation Fund is supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Ford Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts (a federal agency). The Forth Fund is supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. For more information: www.npnweb.org.
Elena Catalano is an odissi practitioner and a social anthropologist who teaches dance at Kingston University. She has been searching for a theoretical framework in which to anchor her practice and came across a model she wanted to explore, proposed by Ananya Chatterjea.
Ananya Chatterjea (at right), Kingston upon Thames. Photo by Simon Richardson
– By Elena Catalano
I met Ananya Chatterjea for the first time in 2009 while searching for bibliographic resources on Indian classical dance. She was there on the pages of her book speaking of choreographies of resistance, weaving a feminist reading of Chandralekha’s work. At that time my personal journey with odissi had just begun. I had learned a few basic moves, but I was unfamiliar with Indian classical dance at large, and even less with the politics that had created and sustained its aesthetics. Yet, the complexity of the style and the challenges it posed fascinated and motivated me to deepen my understanding of the form.
It was in this attempt to know more about odissi and to confront my new-born passion with a dance style apparently so alien to my cultural background that I entered into a conversation, albeit for long more imaginary than real, with Ananya Chatterjea. I started to talk to her through her writings and discuss with her through the clips of her choreographic works. More recently, I introduced and discussed her work with my dance students at Kingston University. Ananya’s voice and bodiliness have long haunted my relationship with odissi in a consistent, although indirect and sometimes even troubled way.
Ananya, who is now Professor of Dance at the University of Minnesota and Artistic Director of Ananya Dance Theatre, is not only one of the very few academics to have extensively trained in odissi; she is also an active practitioner and a rigorous intellectual who carefully appraises the pernicious effects of established narratives and everyday vocabulary. In her numerous writings, she confronts the patriarchal underpinnings of traditional aesthetics. In her choreographic practice, she endorses the voices and experiences of women of colour.
Ananya Chatterjea, Kingston upon Thames. Photo by Simon Richardson
Ananya contests several aspects of the traditional aesthetics, yet she is committed to developing a contemporary language that refuses the cultural imperialism of Western contemporary dance. Ananya is an activist and a feminist who uses her artistic practice as a tool for provoking social awareness and change. She has developed a very personal movement vocabulary, Yorchha, which, while rooted in the classical form of odissi, chhau and yoga, is compelling, fearless and unique in its results. Her choreographic work sits now at the margin of both the classical and the contemporary dance scenes, although quite resistant to fitting easily into any of these categories.
When I met Ananya for the first time through the pages of her writings and the clips of her choreographies, I felt at the same time deeply fascinated and somehow unsettled by her bold and brave statements. As a Western woman, trained as an adult in India, I did not feel particularly inclined to political and even less to feminist arguments. However, Ananya’s articles were explicitly confronting me, posing difficult questions, provoking further uneasiness in my already uneasy embodiment of the form. Her voice was haunting the relationship with my guru, the embodiment of the vocabulary, the learning of the classical repertoire, my daily practice. Perhaps Ananya was questioning the innocence of my passion for odissi. She was forcing me to wonder about the dynamics of power I was involved in, and even generating, as a white Western woman training in India.
Then, this year I had the opportunity to organise an Odissi Summer School at Kingston University. The school included traditional repertoire workshops led by Monica Singh. However I felt it was crucial that Ananya was somehow part of it. Despite being ground-breaking, Ananya’s choreographic work was surprisingly unknown to most idissi dance practitioners I had met. I wanted participants to be shaken and inspired by a woman who fearlessly pushed the boundaries of the dance form from within, through a physical and intellectual engagement with its aesthetics, holding a serious, sustained and politically-aware standpoint.
Ananya Chatterjea (at right), Kingston upon Thames. Photo by Simon Richardson
Ananya was invited to give a lecture and a master-class as part of the Odissi Summer School. She talked about her journey within the dance form, growing up in the busy streets of Kolkata, under the traditional guru-shishya system. She then explained how the contrast between the glossing aesthetics of the dance and the harsh reality of Indian urban life made her feel uneasy with the traditional form and training system. She talked about how she became sensitive to the experience of women in Indian patriarchal society, and how after moving to the USA, she began to research the dance form and develop her own technique and choreographic language, inspired by street theatres and other Indian bodily vocabularies. Then, in the master-class, Ananya taught some of the basic principles of Yorchha, and a challenging excerpt from her own repertoire. It was with this dance material that we really had a first-hand understanding of the distinctive way she uses the body and energy in movement and her pedagogical approach to training. While physically and emotionally challenging, Ananya’s work provoked in all of us a new ay of understanding our relationship with the dance form and with our own practice.
Ananya’s contribution to the odissi world is greater than most are ready to understand and recognise. Her choreographic work should be showcased in the UK, and odissi dancers who are willing to explore the creative potential of this dance form should have the opportunity to work with Ananya. There is little doubt that her work will inspire many who want to fly outside the little cosy but somehow narrow cage the odissi community has created for itself.
Ananya Dance Theatre at Little Mekong Night Market, July 24, 2016
Little Mekong Night Market is the Twin Cities’s Asian-inspired twilight street market, located in the heart of the Little Mekong District near the Western Avenue Green Line LRT Station.
Little Mekong is the Asian business and cultural district in Saint Paul. Located between Mackubin and Galtier streets along University Avenue, the district boasts a diversity of cultures, top rated restaurants, and unique shopping experiences. The neighborhoods around Little Mekong include Frogtown and Summit-University.