September 24, 2016
Reprinted with permission of Pulse Autumn 2016 – Issue 134
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.
July 27, 2016
Amy Crawford, Ananya Chatterjea, Peter Leggett. Photo: Darren Johnson
The Metropolitan Regional Arts Council (MRAC) selected Ananya Dance Theatre and the Caponi Art Park as recipients of the 2016 MRAC Arts Achievement Award.
The awards were presented by Amy Crawford, executive director, and Peter Leggett, board president, during MRAC’s annual meeting, July 26, held at the Soo Visual Arts Center in Minneapolis.
Ananya Chatterjea, artistic director, accepted the award for Ananya Dance Theatre. Cheryl Caponi, executive director, accepted on behalf of Caponi Art Park.
MRAC’s Arts Achievement Award recognizes two organizations each year that exemplify its mission of increasing access to the arts in the seven-county Twin Cities metropolitan area.
July 25, 2016
Christopher Yang, board chair, Center for Hmong Arts and Talent
Ananya Dance Theatre performed at the 3d annual Little Mekong Night Market in St. Paul, July 24. The performance was part of two days of events programmed on the Mystic Lake Casino Stage by the Center for Hmong Arts & Talent.
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.
June 30, 2016
NBC News has highlighted Ananya Dance Theatre’s “Dancing to Heal” fundraising campaign in a news report, ‘Dances of Transformation’: Ananya Dance Theatre Finds Justice Through Movement, by Frances Kai-Hwa Wang posted July 20.
Ananya Dance Theatre launched the crowdsource campaign on the Indiegogo platform to support “Horidraa: Golden Healing,” its 2016 production that explores healing practices and women’s work as healers. The production will premiere at The O’Shaughnessy in St. Paul, September 16-17, 2016.
The campaign has a goal of $10,000. Follow this link to learn more and to donate.
The campaign launched with a fundraising party attended by more than 130 people at Du Nord Craft Spirits in Minneapolis, June 28. In its first 36 hours, the campaign raised $4,885 in online donations. As of July 29, $8,500 has been raised online from 158 donors.
[Original post was updated July 20, 21, 22, 23, 26, 29, 2016.]
May 22, 2016
Members of Ananya Dance Theatre performed Odissi dance in a contemporary format at the Hindu Temple of Minnesota in Maple Grove, May 21. The presentation was made on the second day of Brahmotsavan at the invitation of the Hindu Society of Minnesota for its 10th anniversary.
Ananya Dance Theatre at Hindu Temple of Minnesota, May 21, 2016. Photo by Prabha Venkataram
l-r: Lela Pierce, Prakshi Malik, Renée Copeland, Ananya Chatterjea, James Galtney, Kealoha Ferreira. May 21, 2016.
May 21, 2016
At the invitation of Marianne Combs and MPR News, Ananya Dance Theatre shared The Fitzgerald Theater stage in Saint Paul with Minnesota Artists from Duluth to Lanesboro, May 20, 2016.
ADT backstage at The Fitzgerald Theater. Back l-r: Prakshi Malik, Renée Copeland, Gary Peterson (managing director); Center l-r: Magnolia Yang Sao Yia, Kealoha Ferreira, Jay Galtney, Leila Awadallah; Front l-r: Hui Wilcox, Ananya Chatterjea.
The occasion, hosted by Combs, was an Art Hounds Live showcase in a cabaret style performance featuring live music, dance, theater, comedy, film, visual art, and animation. The event was also a “Thank You” to the hundreds of Minnesotans who have been Art Hounds over the years, volunteering their time to share their enthusiasm with MPR audiences.
May 10, 2016
Choreographing Equity / Staging Social Justice
Ananya Chatterjea conducted a “Choreographing Equity/Staging Social Justice” workshop at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, May 10, 2016. The workshop was conducted for Arts in a Changing America, part of the four-day Placemaking Residency: Design for Equity, held at a variety of Twin Cities venues and organized by the Saint Paul Riverfront Corporation.
The participatory workshop used movement and text-based strategies to imagine and embody what justice might look and feel like.
May 1, 2016
Pre-parade gathering, May 1, 2016. Photo by Gary Peterson
For a second consecutive year, members of Ananya Dance Theatre danced the length of the annual May Day Parade in South Minneapolis, May 1, 2016. The parade is organized and sponsored by In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre.
This year, the ADT dancers were joined by 33 members of the Jumping Jets Drill Team & Drum Squad, based in Saint Paul.
Jumping Jets Drill Team & Drum Squad. Photo by Almeda Harvey Childs
The May Day Parade route follows Bloomington Avenue in Minneapolis and is followed by a festival in Powderhorn Park. Approximately 50,000 people attend the parade and festival.
April 15, 2016
April 14, 2016
Performing for Leadership Twin Cities in The Ordway’s Drake Room.
Members of Ananya Dance Theatre performed for the Leadership Twin Cities annual Arts Day, held at The Ordway Center in St. Paul, April 14.
Leadership Twin Cities is a nine-month series that informs people about the critical issues facing our community. Its focus is to inform and inspire future leaders – and challenge them to make a difference through personal commitment and involvement.
“Warming up” in St. Paul’s Rice Park, across the street from The Ordway Center.
The program is for individuals seeking to learn about community issues and to discuss solutions to the problems. The program selects approximately 50 people each year from the public, private and non-profit sectors who share a commitment to improving our community.
Leadership Twin Cities also creates opportunities for participants to form relationships with classmates, making it a lasting experience.