March 24, 2017

The feminine aesthetic of the Dakini

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