Inspired by the politically charged “group theatre” tradition of Kolkata, where she grew up, and the intricate beauty and power of the classical dance form Odissi, which was her primary training, Ananya Chatterjea issued a call to Twin Cities BIPOC women and femme communities to come together to dance about their dreams.
Many of the founding women shared experiences of marginalization within the world of concert dance. All were committed to crafting a responsible artistry that was invested in building progressive community. They also felt the need to create alliances with other Black and brown artists across differences of race, nationality, sexuality, gender identification, and class, and to stand together on a shared forum.
A leadership group emerged and shared the labor of writing grant applications and organizing logistics of performances. This steering committee formalized the ensemble’s structure and establishment as a non-profit corporation in 2005.
Since then, the company has clarified the principles and foundational philosophy that scaffolds our practice. The contemporary feminist dance language that Chatterjea began to formulate, based on the deconstruction and extension of Classical Odissi and the martial art of Chhau, both rooted in the state of Odisha, India, and Vinyasa Yoga, has now blossomed into a fully-developed aesthetic and movement form, which we call Yorchha.
We also developed Shawngram, a philosophy and choreographic methodology that upholds resistance to injustice as a daily, activating force. Our understanding of Shawngram emerged from conversations among artists and our research which revealed the untold and little-known stories of women, womxn, and femmes from global Black, Indigenous, and communities of color. Sharing this research with each other led to a collectively shaped and committed vision of the world to which we aspired through our dancing. It also established a creative process where the themes and narrative arcs of projects emerged through research, discussion, and debate.
Our work emerges from these, and two other foundational principles embedded in our projects: Aanch, the commitment to ignite a widespread desire for empowerment through dance, and Daak, the call to audiences to join us in our work. For more, see: http://www.ananyadancetheatre.org/philosophy/
From Yorchha, Shawngram, Aanch, and Daak flow the three streams of our programming: (1) Devised concert stage productions that reveal a mosaic of our resonances, historic journeys, and visions of a just future; (2) Workshops, classes, and dialogues with people from refugee, immigrant, Indigenous, Black, and of color communities, with particular focus on building solidarities and healing offer exchanges about identity, dance, and choreography; and (3) Participatory performances, often in non-traditional settings, that invite people to join our practice of #occupydance that promotes dancing as civic action.
Chatterjea is our primary public face, initiating relationships with partners, collaborators, dancers, and audiences. She leads the artistic work: training, organizing, and facilitating research-discussion-improvisation sessions with artists. She creates choreography with input from dancers’ research and reflection, provides feedback on their performance and artistic growth, and upholds artistic excellence.
A professor of dance at the University of Minnesota, Chatterjea holds a doctoral degree in Dance and has long worked with arts and social justice. She was awarded a Guggenheim Artist Fellowship for Choreography in 2011, a McKnight Artist Fellowship in Choreography in 2012, a Joyce Foundation Award in 2016, an Urban Bush Women Choreographic Center Fellowship in 2018, and a Dance/USA Artist Fellowship in 2019. The Minnesota SAGE Awards for Dance cited her as Outstanding Dance Educator in 2015, and the Star Tribune newspaper named her Best Choreographer in 2016.
With the acquisition of our first facility in 2018, we named dancer Kealoha Ferreira as Artistic Associate of Ananya Dance Theatre, and Co-Leader of the Shawngram Institute where she leads company rehearsals, teaches community classes, hosts events, and leads our teaching activities in public schools.
Our community of collaborators represents a range of ethnic, cultural, immigrant, and of color communities who call Minnesota home: South Asian, Chinese, Hmong, African American, Pacific Islander, Palestinian, Latinx, and mixed race. Our dancers are experienced cultural workers and instructors.
After more than 15 years of continuous work, what remains vital is the commitment to a nuanced sense of artistry, a process that is vigilant about social justice, excellence that is interwoven with community values, and an intergenerational, multi-faceted artistic leadership.