"Every single engagement that the company led was powerful and thought-provoking for those in attendance."
John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Sheboygan, WI, Ann Brusky, Curator for Public Programs
Ananya Dance Theatre was in residence at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center (JMKAC) for three days in the 2019 Spring season, April 9 through April 11. They came to perform Shaatranga: Women Weaving Worlds, a dance in four movements with accompanying poetic texts. The dancers brought with them to Sheboygan an incredible strength and power through the artistry of their storytelling. Audiences of all ages were touched by these narratives delivered through dance.
The company offered three on-site Informances for an array of audiences of different ages (preschool, high school, and senior citizens), one Master Class, one Family Show, and one full-length performance. Their time in Sheboygan also included an outreach performance that took the company up to Manitowoc (thirty miles north) to Silver Lake College where they engaged students, faculty, and administrators with their work.
The underserved target audience identified for this residency was the Hmong Leadership Council, one of the Arts Center’s longtime community partners. The North High School students who belong to this council found the experience of meeting artistic director, Ananya Chatterjea, very moving and thought-provoking. As the group’s advisor, Matthew Miller shared, “Although most of my students had previous experience in cultural dance forms, they had perhaps never conceived of dance as a peaceful, interactive space in which every participant is respected, valued, and needed.” For the Master Class in the Arts Center’s Matrix theater space, the students were joined by Miller, who danced with them. Together, they wore themselves out. They had an amazing time bonding with Ananya and her dancers who taught them the troupe’s unique blend of Classical Odissi, the martial art Chhau, and Vinyasa Yoga.
Over the course of the three-day residency, we heard time and again that viewers were surprised, riveted, and engaged by the energy and emotion conveyed by Ananya Dance Theatre. For example, one administrator at Silver Lake College said to the company during post-performance discussion time: “when you first got here and said you would be telling stories through dance, I didn’t think you could do that. But you did!” At an Arts Center Informance, one gentleman, a Vietnam War veteran who attended via SPARK! (a JMKAC program that serves people with mid-stage memory loss and their caregivers) said that the clatter of helicopters overhead brought back very distinct memories of his war experience. And at that same Informance, one wise and observant six-year-old remarked, “At first, it seemed like they were fighting over the shoe. But that’s not really what they wanted.”
Every single engagement that the company led was powerful and thought-provoking for those in attendance. This is because Ananya Dance Theatre brings an energy and strength through their dance that is enthralling for viewers. Their “people-powered dances of transformation” draw on social justice themes. Through rhythm, voice, and movement, they made the lives and stories of women from around the world palpable, visceral, and heart-wrenching. One local dance teacher said that as she left the performance, she felt as though “my whole body had been affected.”
We received a series of responses from Etude School students:
“The movement style was new. Different from ANYTHING we have ever done before.”
“We were challenged but also supported throughout the workshop.”
“They brought in mindfulness with the movement and also connected their culture to it. It was nothing we ever saw before. I felt powerful and energized.”
From Dionne Landgraf, Associate Professor of Art at Silver Lake College:
“The Ananya Dance performance inspired students, faculty and staff to dialogue with others on important issues through the arts. Our college community shared with thankfulness the opportunity to participate in and reflect upon the visions and messages the Ananya Dance Theatre brought to our college.”
From Matthew Miller, Director of the Hmong Leadership Council, our focus audience:
“Of particular value, the Ananya Dance Theatre’s workshop leaders, women artists of color and cultural activists, were able to reveal for my female and male students the value of movement and artistic collaboration in building community.…By attending the workshop, I personally was expecting to learn dance rooted in the traditions of India; what I was not expecting was to gain a greater appreciation for the way people can connect in transformative new ways. We are grateful to the dancers of the Ananya Dance Theatre for their engaging workshop and performances, and equally grateful to the Arts Midwest Touring Fund and Kohler Arts Center for making this experience possible.”
Ann Brusky, Curator for Public Programs, 608 New York Ave, Sheboygan, WI 53081 | email@example.com | 920.694.4695