April 16, 2013
Minneapolis airport, Apr. 26, 2013, en route to HIFA • Minneapolis/Amsterdam: 4,165 mi. Amsterdam/Harare: 5,082 mi. L-to-R: Josina Manu, production manager; Ananya Chatterjea; Alexandra Eady; Brittany Radke; Chitra Vairavan; Orlando Hunter; Rose Huey; Renée Copeland; Hui Wilcox.
MINNEAPOLIS, MN—Ananya Dance Theatre (“ADT”) will present “Moreechika: Season of Mirage” at the Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA) in Zimbabwe, April 30.
HIFA showcases Zimbabwean and international artists in a comprehensive program of theater, dance, music, circus, street performance, spoken word, craft, and visual arts over six days each April and May. The 2013 festival runs from April 30 to May 5.
The festival is known internationally as one of the best festivals in Africa.
The theme of “Moreechika,” an evening-length work, is oil and the environmental, cultural, and human costs of its extraction, particularly on women in global communities of color.
Choreographed by Minnesota’s Ananya Chatterjea to an original score by composer Greg Schutte, “Moreechika” received its world premiere in July 2012 at the New Waves Festival in Port of Spain, Trinidad. The company presented subsequent performances in Minneapolis and Philadelphia, in September and October, respectively.
“Moreechika” is the third work in a four-part investigation into systemic violence, trauma, resistance, and empowerment experienced by communities of color, using the thematic elements of mud (“Kshoy!/Decay!” 2010), gold (“Tushaanal: Fires of Dry Grass” 2011), oil (“Moreechika: Season of Mirage” 2012), and water (“Mohona: Estuaries of Desire” 2013).
As Chatterjea explains, the inspiration for ”Moreechika” has come from many sources, including “the struggles of Nigerian activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, who addressed the injustices done by Shell Oil to the Ogoni people and the destruction of their land and ecosystem, for which he was tried and hanged by a military tribunal.”
“Moreechika: Season of Mirage”
Photo V. Paul Virtucio
The struggles of the U’wa community of Colombia also informed the work.
“This community is stunned by the excessive consumption of oil by our world,”
Chatterjea says. “They think of oil as ruiria, blood of the earth, which must be respected as part of the natural world.”
Chatterjea also drew inspiration from the responses of the indigenous Kichwa women of Ecuador to Chevron oil, and the current struggle in North America against the Keystone XL Pipeline through Native American land.
ADT creates original dance theater that tells the metaphoric stories of women’s lives with a trademark emotional intensity and physical prowess that draw upon the company’s contemporary choreographic aesthetic and technique. This aesthetic explores and celebrates feminine energy at the intersection of artistic excellence and social justice.
Inspired by the commitment and passion that infuse women’s movements worldwide, the artists create original works that tell stories of ordinary lives, foster strong communities, raise social justice issues, and engender power and beauty.
Chatterjea seamlessly integrates the sculptural sensuality, powerful footwork, and emotional articulation of the classical Indian dance form Odissi, the pure lines and breath release of yoga, and a bodily awareness of energy in the martial arts tradition of Chhau.
This engagement is supported by the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation through USArtists International in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Ananya Dance Theatre is supported by ArtsLab, a program of Arts Midwest.
The creation of “Moreechika” was funded, in part, by appropriations from the Minnesota State Legislature with money from the State’s general fund, and its arts and cultural heritage fund that was created by a vote of the people of Minnesota on November 4, 2008. Additional funding provided by The McKnight Foundation, Institute for Advanced Studies, Image Fund, and underwritten by the American Composers Forum’s “Live Music for Dance Minnesota” program in partnership with New Music USA, with matching funds provided by the McKnight Foundation.
April 4, 2013
Photo by V. Paul Virtucio
Sites of innovation
Odissi, like other Indian classical dance forms, has been reconstructed, and twentieth century cultural icons like Uday Shankar (1900–1977) and Rabindranath Tagore (1861–1941) have created what has been described as a ‘legacy of innovation’ (Stock 2006: 3). As much as Indian dance is touted in terms of ‘ancient’ and ‘traditional’, it is a form that has engaged with tradition since the beginning of the twentieth century, much of it linked to the politics of colonialism and postcolonialism. Kalpana Ram argues that it is only recently that ‘new attention is paid to the choreographing of dance pieces as active sites in which wider historical and political processes can be seen at work’ (2009:3). Studying the processual, in this case sadhana and its engagement with the traditions of Odissi, is extremely valuable because it makes transparent the link between the embodied practice of dance and the discourses with which these dancers engage. Furthermore, it highlights how the performance of Odissi dance is ultimately a process, not a product. So how can we understand innovation in this context and how does it take place within a dance form celebrated for its antiquity? Does the repetition of choreographies passed on dull the choreographic impulse, or does innovation come from repetition, such that it is absorbed into our body memory and newness occurs in the performance of it? Innovation in the context of Indian dance builds on a dialectical relationship with tradition and can take many forms. Innovation is not the restaging of established choreographies within the margam for five dancers instead of one, but can be a new way to think about the margam itself. For example, a mangalacharan can be done in a gestural idiom of Odissi and modern dance, and is innovative in terms of its spatial, choreographic and musical orientations.
It can take the invocatory quality of the mangalacharan dance and perform it anew. For example, Rekha Tandon reimagines the margam, and presents it with her own gendered interpretation. Her use of poets such as Surdas and Tagore could possibly be critiqued by the Odissi traditionalists for using non- Oriya poets, or for using Maya Angelou, a western poet to express the notion of Shakti or cosmic female energy. For Tandon, these are semantic differences, and her innovations maintain the core of the Odissi form.
Ananya Chatterjea’s choreographies are inspired by contemporary political themes, and her creative process is elaborate and complex. The creation of a new piece begins with choosing a theme, and developing it for a year and half prior to the performance premiere. Dancers complete training exercises that are a mix of traditional Odissi, yoga and Mayurbhanj Chau (a form of folk dance that originated in Orissa). The dancers then work with activists in the community around the selected theme. Her recent piece, Daak/Call to Action was performed at the IAAC festival in New York City in 2008. It is a work that is a response to ‘historical and continuing land rights violations’. This work linked the cities of Kolkata, Tijuana and Minnesota, creating ‘a transnational collaboration’.
The dancers took part in interactive workshops led by activists who prompted their improvisational responses. Chatterjea’s sadhana, or practice, is to develop these political and social themes, and have her dancers ‘respond’ to these issues through improvisation. Chatterjea has found a way to take a concept, map it in a workshop setting with other dancers, and present it choreographically. This process of collaboration and innovation has become her sadhana and her way of embodying her activism. Although Chatterjea’s work has been critiqued as ‘not traditional Odissi’, she defends her process:
I believe strongly that contemporary Indian dance can emerge from entirely Indian practices or the range of Indian practices. That’s why I said very carefully that every single one of my movements, I can trace it to the ‘t’. How I do something is always locatable back to a source. (2004)
For Chatterjea, the innovation comes from her process described above, and is enacted via her sadhana. Both Tandon and Chatterjea create innovative work but describe themselves as coming from within the traditions of Odissi, and are adding to the canon of the form via sadhana. This approach becomes an effective strategy that allows them to operate within the rubric of a ‘traditional’ dance form, and yet produce innovative work.
Innovation within Odissi may involve taking a new raga or ragini and choreographing a pallavi to it, or taking a shloka/verse from the Rig Veda and scoring it to music, or performing Odissi to a Bach concerto. To those who understand these nuances, these dances can be very innovative. What may not seem ‘innovative’ to an uninitiated eye may in fact appear highly innovative to the knowledgeable eye. For dancer Madhavi Mudgal there is much to innovate within the tradition:
What I find sometimes is, especially in India, people think anything that copies something Western is modern. That is the saddest part. Because I firmly believe that any kind of innovation must stem from the roots. And there is no limit to what you can do.
But to those who are unfamiliar with the dance form, these kinds of innovations are often viewed in an unfavourable light. One of the markers of Odissi dance is the brightly coloured silk costumes and silver jewellery, their aesthetic value often a draw for western audiences. But this visual appeal can become a barrier to being taken seriously, and Odissi dancers frequently complain of the backlash. An organizer at a reputable dance venue in New York told me that his colleague asked a Kathak dancer to ‘put on more of the eye stuff’ because the dancer did not seem ‘Indian enough’ to her. While appearing ‘too Indian’ can be advantageous for ‘ethnic’ or ‘folk’ festivals, some dancers fear that they are viewed as performing ossified forms that have exotic appeal, but are not taken seriously in choreographic terms. This kind of reading of Indian dance by critics and organizers in the West, as well as those not familiar with the cultural context from which these innovations emerge, becomes highly problematic for these dancers trying to innovate.
Traditionalists, such as D. N Patnaik and one of the co-founders of Jayantika, have critiqued much of this innovation. For Patnaik, it has taken over the form, and dancers such as those at Nrityagram have not maintained its integrity and the margam as codified by Jayantika. Ironically, Nrityagram received a similar critique of not being ‘traditional enough’ but from a member of the western press. A review in the Village Voice entitled ‘From exotic climes, half a dozen dancing princesses. Collect ’em all!’ states:
Dare I say that the show sometimes seems unreal in its surface perfection, as if the irregularities and ambiguities that make art and life profound had yielded to Disneyfication? To my mind the company goes astray when trying to fuse latter day Western dance genres to its traditional form. (Tobias 2005)
Notwithstanding the problematic comparison to Disney princess caricatures, the author takes issue with Nrityagram’s innovation. Companies like Nrityagram end up displeasing traditionalists such as Patnaik who feel that their work is too innovative, as well as displeasing a particular type of western viewer who subscribes to a static notion of tradition and an essentialist view of Indian dance. On the one hand, there is innovation in Odissi dance, and on the other, there is the argument that Odissi is losing its regional essence and integrity. But both positions on this continuum, despite their opposing attitudes, seem to agree that the traditions and parampara of Odissi today are in constant movement and that change is inevitable. But it is the kind of change that is under dispute, as well as who gets to decide what constitutes innovation.
Although this innovation may emerge from within the traditions or parampara of Odissi, it is not without criticism. These dancers negotiate between trying to make new work that is taken seriously by the Odissi establishment and a global audience. Odissi traditionalists criticize it as not being sufficiently traditional, and in the West it is sometimes viewed as not ‘Indian’ enough. But whether the innovation occurs as a new pallavi set to a raga or a work that references environmentalism and land rights, there is a continuum of work that stretches definitions of the traditional, by building on the rigorous and foundational training of Odissi dance. These dancers may or may not acknowledge the innovation of their work, but for them it is ultimately ‘locatable back to a source’, a source that draws on a body trained via sadhana and engages with the traditions of the dance. It is both strategic and crucial that the dancing body remain at the centre of the discourse and practice of Odissi.
April 1, 2013
“Dance of A Thousand Water Dreams” is presented by Ananya Dance Theatre as part of Northern Spark 2013, produced by Northern Lights.mn.
Photo: V. Paul Virtucio
“Dance of A Thousand Water Dreams,” a three-part processional performance inspired by the imagination of water in indigenous cosmologies, will begin with a water purification ritual at Lambert’s Landing conducted by women leaders from the Native communities. It then moves into a processional dance in which all are invited to participate. The dancing procession, accompanied by musicians from the Cherry Spoon Collective and poetry by Mankwe Ndosi, and led by lanterns designed by Annie Katsura Rollins, will travel up Sibley Street and complete the water ceremony on the Union Depot Plaza. A version of this processional dance will recur at midnight, this time with candles. It also will recur before dawn, with dancers and audience traveling back to the Lambert’s Landing where we mark a new beginning in our relationship with the Mississippi River.
Photo: V. Paul Virtucio
7pm: Alfresco processional performance begins at Lambert’s Landing, on the Mississippi River near Warner Road & Jackson Street. The public is welcome to participate.
7:15pm: Water is raised from the River in meditative silence. The voices of Cherry Spoon Collective musicians and poet Mankwe Ndosi soar across the sky to end the meditation and begin the first dance, “Awakening.”
7:30pm: Water ritual, conducted by Native activist Sharon Day.
7:40pm: Lanterns lead “River Ancestries,” a processional dance, from Lambert’s Landing up Sibley Street to Union Depot plaza.
8:20pm: Procession dance ends with flame lighting.
11:40pm: Dancers, musicians, and audience gather at the plaza water sculpture to light lanterns and candles for “Water Bodies,” a danced struggle between the Zuni god, Swallower of Clouds, and the water goddesses Oshun, Ganga, Chalchiuhtlicue, and Mazu. A midnight procession through Union Depot’s waiting room concludes at 12:45am.
Throughout the night, the public may place written memories and wishes for water at the plaza sculpture.
4:20am-5:20am: Sound artists summon all to rise and dance on the plaza in “Shifting Course” as Swallower of Clouds is vanquished by the goddesses who then lead a triumphant dance down Sibley Street to Lambert’s Landing and closing ceremony led by Sharon Day.
Union Depot plaza
We invite you to participate with us in the four movement segments: “Awakening,” “River Ancestries,” “Water Bodies,” and “Shifting Course.” To help you do that, we have posted a 7-1/2 minute instructional video online that you can practice in the privacy of your home. Or – join us at the Union Depot from 6pm to 8pm on either Wednesday, June 5, or Friday, June 7, and we will help you learn the moves in person.
Of Related Interest:
St. Paul’s Union Depot has been rebult and remodeled many times • by John Diers • MinnPost.com • April 2, 2013
March 27, 2013
January 24, 2013
Based on fieldwork in sites such as New York and Bhubaneswar, this article examines how a group of dancers work within and beyond the traditions of Odissi dance as a way to expand the existing repertoire or margam (literally, pathway). How are new works produced and what constitutes innovation in a dance form that is frequently identified as a traditional one? This article argues that tradition(s) function as an interlocutor that dancers engage with continuously and dynamically to create innovative work. This innovation is accomplished via the daily practice of sadhana, such that innovation becomes an embodiment of that effort. By exploring Odissi through the embodied knowledge of its practitioners and their sadhana, this article provides an alternate way to understand a dance rooted in a ritual form, now performed on a global stage, in the language of the humanities and social sciences.
In her article ‘Dancing off-stage: Nationalism and its “minor practices” in Tamil Nadu’, Kalpana Ram (2009) argues that there are two fundamental weaknesses in dance scholarship. She describes the first weakness as follows: ‘Yet for all its insights into the political construction of gender and nationhood, this body of work betrays a singular imperviousness to the aesthetics or the embodied experience of dance or performance’ (Ram 2009). The second weakness Ram identifies is that ‘we have not sufficiently allowed Indian dance and performance traditions to inform our epistemology and methodology in the social sciences and humanities’ (2009). In short, we have much to learn from these performance traditions that have emerged within the Indian context, and these weaknesses continue to be a challenge for scholars writing about embodied practices. Odissi, especially in recent years, has transformed dramatically from a ritual form to a transnational performance. It has changed to accommodate new contexts and audiences, and continues to do so. Although this change is evident from its history, change is also built into a cultural understanding of the tradition and practice of Odissi. The notions of tradition these dancers employ is distinct from western ideas that often suggest fixity and stasis. Consequently, for many Odissi dancers terms like ‘traditional’ and ‘contemporary’ become a site of debate as these dancers present their work to non-Indian audiences and increasingly globalized Indian audiences.
I analyse the work of some dancers who work within the traditions of Odissi dance as a way to expand the existing repertoire or margam (literally, pathway) of Odissi dance, and yet must negotiate their innovation with Odissi traditionalists and new audiences abroad. Many of these dancers describe tradition via metaphors of nature, such as rivers and streams. Their ideas of tradition and their resultant innovation reflect the fluidity of these metaphors, such that the new works they create become strategic sites to explore the politics of the form. As Odissi has become increasingly globalized, there has emerged a tension between varying notions of tradition, and a need to maintain fixity even though the history of Indian dance has always been fraught with anxieties about maintaining the authenticity of traditional forms. I argue that tradition(s) and how dancers engage with them contributes to the broad variance of the dance as it is performed and practiced today, and their individual engagement with these varying notions of tradition is what fosters innovation. Tradition(s) thus function as an interlocutor that dancers engage with continuously and dynamically to create innovative work that is accomplished through sadhana/daily practice such that innovation becomes an embodiment of that effort.
This article is part of a larger, multi-sited ethnographic study conducted in New York, New Delhi, Kolkata, Khajuraho, Alexandria, Virginia and Bhubaneswar from 2005 to 2009 and with a research population divided into three categories: dancers (gurus, students and performers), critics (dance critics and writers), and bureaucrats and presenters (government officials and organizers). For this article, I focus my work on dancers in India and the United States who travelled between the two countries, as well as dancers who did not (or could not). Like the dancers I study, my location too is a shifting one, and I have researched these dancers as a practitioner/academic and colleague as I step into the boundaries between ‘diasporic’ Indian and ‘native’ Indian and embody the complementary sides of practitioner and scholar.
A brief history of Odissi
Odissi, one of eight Indian ‘classical’ dances, was officially codified in 1958 through the formation of Jayantika, a group of gurus and scholars who came together in the mid-twentieth century. However, this fact is often elided in historical and national narratives of the dance that invoke a seamless trajectory back to antiquity citing both sculptural and scriptural evidence. The Odissi of today is described as drawing on the traditions of the maharis, the female temple dancers, and the gotipuas, male dancers. The maharis participated in temple rituals as early as the ninth century ad, and their presence continued until the sixteenth century. By the twentieth century, the practice of their dance had declined and they found it extremely hard to survive. The gotipuas, who performed dressed as women, came into existence during the seventeenth century. Unlike the maharis, they were not affiliated with the temple but with akhadas/gymnasiums. The practice of this form of the dance moved to the akhadas and its practitioners also became known as akhadapilas or boys of the akhada. Although the gotipuas came to be associated with temple events and Vaishnavism through their song and dance, unlike the maharis they never performed inside the temple (Chatterjea 2004: 148).
The British eventually took over the management of Jagannath temple in 1803. According to Patnaik, this time marked the beginning of the maharis’ association with ‘concubinage’, largely because the temple, which provided stipends for the maharis, ceased to do so and these women had to look elsewhere for employment. This led to a shift in the spiritual and psychic home of Odissi, and also effectively removed the maharis from the centre of Odissi dance and performance. On the one hand, they enjoyed special privileges such as access to the temple, and a sexual freedom that other women at the time were denied. On the other, with limited royal and temple patronage, and with increased involvement by the British in temple affairs, they were subject to a decline in their lifestyles (Chatterjea 2004: 149). As moral policing increased, their way of life became more penurious and unsustainable. Without a steady income, the maharis were forced to rely on other means, which sometimes meant sex work.
Many of the gurus who were part of Jayantika were originally gotipuas and part of jatra groups (street theatre). Notably, even though many of the gurus who participated in the reconstruction of Odissi were trained as gotipuas, they fashioned the form of the solo female dancer after the tradition of the maharis; the actual maharis, however, were excluded from the dialogue during the Jayantika revival and reconstruction. It is ironic that the mystique of the mahari was exploited and perpetuated even though she was excluded from the project of reconstruction. By drawing on the evocative tropes of the mahari dancer, the claim to authenticity becomes historically validated and spiritually sanctified, for it is considered closer to antiquity and spirituality than the more recent gotipua tradition. By doing so, it builds on the fetishization of a female form that forwards a more hetero-normative perspective of the dance than that of the gotipuas. The erasure of the old and arthritic maharis was a necessary step in the consolidation of the romanticized image of the mahari; middle-class and upper-caste female Odissi dancers with their male gurus reworked the image of the mahari and the ‘new’ national female dancer came into being, one who was able to cross regional and local barriers. Compared to the maharis who were excluded from the revival completely, these women became cultural representatives of Odissi and the nation. Gender coupled with the privilege of class (and the accompanying perquisites of dress, access, language and geographical location) allowed for these women to take Odissi into a new arena.
Jayantika was responsible for the fixing of the Odissi margam, the developmental pathway of Indian ‘classical’ dance. Jayantika members decided the sequence and number of dances that count towards an evening-length recital, indicating a shift towards a western concert format. The original mahari version was about ten to fifteen minutes of uninterrupted ritual during which they would dance and sing. The Jayantika group codified a full Odissi recital to include five dance items that mirrored the entry into a temple, which began at its outermost premises and culminated at the inner sanctum. Similar to the items prescribed in Bharatnatyam, the pieces in the traditional margam, even today, are as follows: Mangalacharan,7 an opening prayer to the presiding deity, followed by a pure dance rhythmic piece called Batu Nritya or Sthayee Nritya. Pallavi, a rhythmic item, is set to a particular raga, and followed by an abhinaya, or mimetic piece. Another dance item combining abhinaya and nritta, for example a dance like Dasavtar, which describes the ten avatars of Vishnu, follows the abhinaya. And then Moksha, a final culmination of the performance that represents the merging of the dancer with the divine. It is this margam that is considered to be the correct and authentic version of Odissi, even though it is a significant departure from the Odissi of the maharis.
January 24, 2012
I was inside, cooking a meal with my daughter and we heard the younger children’s shouts as they played in the waters after their baths splashing in it, swimming in it, drinking it. We all thought it was water until that day.
As I cooked in silence the children’s voices mixed with the hiss of my stove “Look! There is a rainbow in the water!” hisssssss. Such words sound beautiful at first. Like words in a lullaby. I thought, it is possible a rainbow has appeared in the sky and is so strong that they can see the rainbow’s reflection in the Aguarico.
January 10, 2012
Where do I go when I dance?
There’s nowhere to go but rather pass through your moments into my tomorrow. The news will only reach you late. And timing is everything in your today.
Digging for something that will never be found but still exists in my safe space. That is where my body breathes in tomorrow. Come find me there.
Intentional eyes see beats vibrating from feet, no stomping. Foot-working the love it has for earth, stepping in its own sweat. Not yours. Understand what is left to be understood.
My hands will only reach beyond your sight. Needing more than wants will offer. What’s to become of me in your moments? Whispers in the wind.
Days pass yet when my tomorrow comes it will last beyond dreams. Walk with me for a while. Tomorrow catches what today lets slip through its fingers.
Movement is my lifetime, not moment, in tomorrow. What you see is how I seem to be. Turn away and look again.
Where do you go when I dance?
Chitra Vairavan trained in Bharata Natyam with Hema Rajagopalan. In 2004 she began her journey in contemporary Indian movement through Ananya Dance Theatre (ADT). Chitra has since become a principal dancer in the company and received the 2008 Sage Cowles People’s Choice Award and been named Artist to Watch by Minnesota Monthly in 2011.