Yorchha™, the particular technique of Contemporary Indian American Dance that is the unique trademark of Ananya Dance Theatre’s movement, intersects principles from the classical Indian dance form Odissi (from the eastern Indian state of Odisha), yoga, and the martial art form Chhau (also from eastern India).
Our artistic director, Ananya Chatterjea, created this technique in collaboration with key company dancers, Pramila Vasudevan and Chitra Vairavan. It has emerged from deep research on the aesthetic, history, and philosophy of these movement forms. Yorchha™ locates our bodies in a particular sense of alignment and energy flow.
The primary foundation of Yorchha™ is Odissi. Our dancers train in the basic vocabulary and technique of this form, characterized by a deep relationship to the floor, fast and intricate footwork, use of spirals in the upper part of the body, sculptural balances, extensions of the hip, subtle movements of the torso, active limbic extremities, and curvilinear extensions of the spine.
Much of Odissi’s form eroded during the colonial era due to lack of patronage and support, and was reconstructed in the 1960s. We complemented our study of the embodied form by exploring visual evidence from pre-colonial sculptures, paintings, and texts that spoke about dance. Our holistic approach integrated influences from traditional rituals and actions from everyday contemporary life in India. For instance, in constructing a pedagogy for spiraling the spine in Yorchha™, we have created several exercises that combine and mobilize rare sculptures and images from palm leaf manuscripts dating from the 15th century.
Yorchha™ also draws on the practice of vinyasa yoga, where movement and breath are integrally connected. Breath work, spinal elongation, long-held balances, spirals, bandhas (inner connections of muscles), and positions that are “baddha” (characterized by external binds) are core to Yorchha™. These yogic principles energize the nervous and skeletal systems, which are prioritized over muscularity in our technique.
Chhau is a martial art form developed in the Eastern Indian states of Odisha, Jharkhand, and Bengal. Its use in Yorchha™ follows from principles of the Mayurbhanj style of Chhau from Odisha, characterized by openness of the pelvic floor, quick hip shifts, and spiraling jumps. Chhau was traditionally reserved for male practitioners. Women practitioners, who began to study this form in the late 20th century, inspire our practice today.
These movement forms developed in cultural and geographic proximity and share several principles. These principles may manifest differently in the individual aesthetics. For example, a yogic spiral might maintain a straight spine, whereas an Odissi spiral will typically emphasize a curved line of the spine. In Yorchha™, we draw on consonances and differences to create a vocabulary that emphasizes feminine energy with flow, and curvilinearity and feminist power with strength and clarity.
As a Contemporary Indian American Dance technique, Yorchha™ moves away from stereotypical and popular ideas about Indian dance. For instance, typical notions of gender are overturned in the expressions of strength and positions of power in our technique. Yorchha’s contemporary reimagination of traditional aesthetics emerges from intersecting principles and composing new combinations. For instance, we connect the breath of yoga with drshti and mudras (use of gaze and hand gestures, key elements from classical Indian dance), to direct energy. Mudras are primarily non-narrative in Yorchha, and are used to finish a line and emphasize or punctuate movement dynamics.
Footwork in Yorchha™ creates rhythms as in classical Indian dance. It also disrupts uniformity and fractures expectations of rhythmic harmony to shift energy. Feet are expressive surfaces to explore. For instance, a Yorchha™ foot position that we call the “banana flower foot” often completes our single-leg balances and offers a nuanced resolution to the body’s line. In the “banana flower foot,” the ankle is extended, the foot flexed, and the big toe peels away from the rest of the toes, which are spread out. The shape resembles the banana flower, a popular delicacy in Bengal. The banana flower stains hands brown when it is chopped, much like Yorchha™, which colors and shapes our bodies in a particular aesthetic.