Elena Catalano is an odissi practitioner and a social anthropologist who teaches dance at Kingston University. She has been searching for a theoretical framework in which to anchor her practice and came across a model she wanted to explore, proposed by Ananya Chatterjea.
Ananya Chatterjea (at right), Kingston upon Thames. Photo by Simon Richardson
– By Elena Catalano
I met Ananya Chatterjea for the first time in 2009 while searching for bibliographic resources on Indian classical dance. She was there on the pages of her book speaking of choreographies of resistance, weaving a feminist reading of Chandralekha’s work. At that time my personal journey with odissi had just begun. I had learned a few basic moves, but I was unfamiliar with Indian classical dance at large, and even less with the politics that had created and sustained its aesthetics. Yet, the complexity of the style and the challenges it posed fascinated and motivated me to deepen my understanding of the form.
It was in this attempt to know more about odissi and to confront my new-born passion with a dance style apparently so alien to my cultural background that I entered into a conversation, albeit for long more imaginary than real, with Ananya Chatterjea. I started to talk to her through her writings and discuss with her through the clips of her choreographic works. More recently, I introduced and discussed her work with my dance students at Kingston University. Ananya’s voice and bodiliness have long haunted my relationship with odissi in a consistent, although indirect and sometimes even troubled way.
Ananya, who is now Professor of Dance at the University of Minnesota and Artistic Director of Ananya Dance Theatre, is not only one of the very few academics to have extensively trained in odissi; she is also an active practitioner and a rigorous intellectual who carefully appraises the pernicious effects of established narratives and everyday vocabulary. In her numerous writings, she confronts the patriarchal underpinnings of traditional aesthetics. In her choreographic practice, she endorses the voices and experiences of women of colour.
Ananya Chatterjea, Kingston upon Thames. Photo by Simon Richardson
Ananya contests several aspects of the traditional aesthetics, yet she is committed to developing a contemporary language that refuses the cultural imperialism of Western contemporary dance. Ananya is an activist and a feminist who uses her artistic practice as a tool for provoking social awareness and change. She has developed a very personal movement vocabulary, Yorchha, which, while rooted in the classical form of odissi, chhau and yoga, is compelling, fearless and unique in its results. Her choreographic work sits now at the margin of both the classical and the contemporary dance scenes, although quite resistant to fitting easily into any of these categories.
When I met Ananya for the first time through the pages of her writings and the clips of her choreographies, I felt at the same time deeply fascinated and somehow unsettled by her bold and brave statements. As a Western woman, trained as an adult in India, I did not feel particularly inclined to political and even less to feminist arguments. However, Ananya’s articles were explicitly confronting me, posing difficult questions, provoking further uneasiness in my already uneasy embodiment of the form. Her voice was haunting the relationship with my guru, the embodiment of the vocabulary, the learning of the classical repertoire, my daily practice. Perhaps Ananya was questioning the innocence of my passion for odissi. She was forcing me to wonder about the dynamics of power I was involved in, and even generating, as a white Western woman training in India.
Then, this year I had the opportunity to organise an Odissi Summer School at Kingston University. The school included traditional repertoire workshops led by Monica Singh. However I felt it was crucial that Ananya was somehow part of it. Despite being ground-breaking, Ananya’s choreographic work was surprisingly unknown to most idissi dance practitioners I had met. I wanted participants to be shaken and inspired by a woman who fearlessly pushed the boundaries of the dance form from within, through a physical and intellectual engagement with its aesthetics, holding a serious, sustained and politically-aware standpoint.
Ananya Chatterjea (at right), Kingston upon Thames. Photo by Simon Richardson
Ananya was invited to give a lecture and a master-class as part of the Odissi Summer School. She talked about her journey within the dance form, growing up in the busy streets of Kolkata, under the traditional guru-shishya system. She then explained how the contrast between the glossing aesthetics of the dance and the harsh reality of Indian urban life made her feel uneasy with the traditional form and training system. She talked about how she became sensitive to the experience of women in Indian patriarchal society, and how after moving to the USA, she began to research the dance form and develop her own technique and choreographic language, inspired by street theatres and other Indian bodily vocabularies. Then, in the master-class, Ananya taught some of the basic principles of Yorchha, and a challenging excerpt from her own repertoire. It was with this dance material that we really had a first-hand understanding of the distinctive way she uses the body and energy in movement and her pedagogical approach to training. While physically and emotionally challenging, Ananya’s work provoked in all of us a new ay of understanding our relationship with the dance form and with our own practice.
Ananya’s contribution to the odissi world is greater than most are ready to understand and recognise. Her choreographic work should be showcased in the UK, and odissi dancers who are willing to explore the creative potential of this dance form should have the opportunity to work with Ananya. There is little doubt that her work will inspire many who want to fly outside the little cosy but somehow narrow cage the odissi community has created for itself.
Ananya Dance Theatre at Little Mekong Night Market, July 24, 2016
Little Mekong Night Market is the Twin Cities’s Asian-inspired twilight street market, located in the heart of the Little Mekong District near the Western Avenue Green Line LRT Station.
Little Mekong is the Asian business and cultural district in Saint Paul. Located between Mackubin and Galtier streets along University Avenue, the district boasts a diversity of cultures, top rated restaurants, and unique shopping experiences. The neighborhoods around Little Mekong include Frogtown and Summit-University.
Ananya Dance Theatre launched the crowdsource campaign on the Indiegogo platform to support “Horidraa: Golden Healing,” its 2016 production that explores healing practices and women’s work as healers. The production will premiere at The O’Shaughnessy in St. Paul, September 16-17, 2016.
The campaign launched with a fundraising party attended by more than 130 people at Du Nord Craft Spirits in Minneapolis, June 28. In its first 36 hours, the campaign raised $4,885 in online donations. As of July 29, $8,500 has been raised online from 158 donors.
[Original post was updated July 20, 21, 22, 23, 26, 29, 2016.]
Members of Ananya Dance Theatre performed Odissi dance in a contemporary format at the Hindu Temple of Minnesota in Maple Grove, May 21. The presentation was made on the second day of Brahmotsavan at the invitation of the Hindu Society of Minnesota for its 10th anniversary.
Ananya Dance Theatre at Hindu Temple of Minnesota, May 21, 2016. Photo by Prabha Venkataram
l-r: Lela Pierce, Prakshi Malik, Renée Copeland, Ananya Chatterjea, James Galtney, Kealoha Ferreira. May 21, 2016.
At the invitation of Marianne Combs and MPR News, Ananya Dance Theatre shared The Fitzgerald Theater stage in Saint Paul with Minnesota Artists from Duluth to Lanesboro, May 20, 2016.
ADT backstage at The Fitzgerald Theater. Back l-r: Prakshi Malik, Renée Copeland, Gary Peterson (managing director); Center l-r: Magnolia Yang Sao Yia, Kealoha Ferreira, Jay Galtney, Leila Awadallah; Front l-r: Hui Wilcox, Ananya Chatterjea.
The occasion, hosted by Combs, was an Art Hounds Live showcase in a cabaret style performance featuring live music, dance, theater, comedy, film, visual art, and animation. The event was also a “Thank You” to the hundreds of Minnesotans who have been Art Hounds over the years, volunteering their time to share their enthusiasm with MPR audiences.
Leadership Twin Cities is a nine-month series that informs people about the critical issues facing our community. Its focus is to inform and inspire future leaders – and challenge them to make a difference through personal commitment and involvement.
“Warming up” in St. Paul’s Rice Park, across the street from The Ordway Center.
The program is for individuals seeking to learn about community issues and to discuss solutions to the problems. The program selects approximately 50 people each year from the public, private and non-profit sectors who share a commitment to improving our community.
Leadership Twin Cities also creates opportunities for participants to form relationships with classmates, making it a lasting experience.
The Ethiopian Theater Professionals Association, organizers of the festival, created a video documentary of the four days of activity, September 24-27. Other organizers included the Addis Ababa University College of Performing & Visual Arts, Ethiopian National Theatre, Sundance Institute East African Theater Program Ethiopian Alumni, and Performance Studies International.
Artists from 11 countries attended Crossing Boundaries: Tanzania, South Sudan, Egypt, Rwanda, United States, Burundi, Ethiopia, Israel, Kenya, Uganda, and Sudan.
The University of Minnesota Dance Program presentsa three-week Summer Dance Intensive, June 20-July 9, 2016.
This intensive offers a first ever experience for its participants: one week each with Twin Cities dance companies Ananya Dance Theatre, Black Label Movement, and Shapiro & Smith Dance, and their respective artistic leaders, Ananya Chatterjea, Carl Flink, and Joanie Smith. Each company will tailor its residency week to the unique qualities and aesthetics of each organization.
There are two sections for the intensive, SYMBIOSIS: Dance That Moves & Thinks: Section 1 (2 credits) is for University of Minnesota dance majors and will provide 1 performance credit toward their degree. Section 2 is open to anyone 16 years of age and older, no audition required.
Ananya Dance Theatre: June 20-24, Monday-Friday
Flow from a yogic half-moon balance into flexed feet grounded jumps into footwork marked by asymmetric rhythms. Experience Yorchha™, ADT’s unique contemporary Indian dance technique that brings together movement principles from Odissi, the classical Indian dance technique, Chhau, the East Indian martial art, and Vinyasa yoga. ADT artists will lead participants through a rigorous technique class (9:30am-11am), share the company’s choreographic process that intersects dance with social justice goals, and teach sections from ADT’s repertory (11:15am-1pm). There will be an informal showing on Friday June 24, 1pm.
Black Label Movement: June 27-July 1, Monday-Friday
Learn and move with BLM Artistic Directors Carl Flink and Emilie Plauche Flink and their ballistic movers during a rigorous daily schedule that will challenge your physical and creative limits. Each day begins with a contemporary movement technique class, followed by a short partnering laboratory, and ends with a focused, two-hour repertory rehearsal. Flink will give a presentation on his dynamic collaborations with scientists and creation of TED Talks during the week.
Schedule for the BLM week: 9:30 – 10:45 a.m. Contemporary Technique; 10:45 – 11:00 a.m. Partnering Laboratory; 11:15 – 1 p.m. BLM Repertory; June 29 at 1 p.m. BLM Presentation on Bodystorming and Unique Collaborations with Scientists; July 1 at 1 p.m. public repertory showing.
Shapiro & Smith Dance: July 5-9, Tuesday – Saturday
Shapiro & Smith Dance performs tales of beauty and biting wit that run the gamut from searingly provocative to absurdly hilarious. Dancing with breathtaking physicality and emotional depth, SSD has earned an international reputation for virtuosity, substance, craft, and pure abandonment. Classes in contemporary technique and repertory will be led by Laura Selle Virtucio, Scott Mettille, and Joanie Smith. The intensive week will re-stage “Hands,” a work that examines the power and beauty of people’s hands.
Schedule for the SSD week: 9:30am-10:30am Contemporary Technique; 10:30am-1:00pm SSD Repertory; July 9 at 12pm public showing.
Ananya Chatterjea in a discussion on cultural equity in dance education, Feb. 28, 2016. Photo by Christopher Duggan.
Ananya Chatterjea participated in a discussion on cultural equity in dance education, moderated by Camille A. Brown, at the Dance/NYC 2016 Symposium, February 28.
The 2016 Symposium hosted 500 participants to consider connections between the art form of dance and New York City, and to explore questions of cultural planning, affordability, equity and inclusion, public-private partnerships, and the future of technology. More than 1,200+ dance makers and companies work and operate in the New York metropolitan area.
Misty Copeland, principal dancer, American Ballet Theatre, and Virginia Johnson, artistic director, Dance Theatre of Harlem. Dance/NYC 2016 Symposium, Feb. 28, 2016. Photo by Christopher Duggan.
The full-day gathering of New York’s dance community, held at the Gibney Dance Center, aimed to share information and innovation and to stimulate awareness, interest, and ongoing engagement in dance. The Symposium made use of multiple studios for panel discussions, case studies, interactive workshops, a networking lunch, and more.
Darren Walker, president, Ford Foundation, and Lane Harwell, executive director, Dance/NYC. Dance/NYC 2016 Symposium, Feb. 28, 2016. Photo by Christopher Duggan.
In fall 2015, the Humanities Institute at Scripps College, Claremont, California, sought to address and confront some of the devastating effects of intersecting forms of violence committed against people of marginalized identities in contemporary United States.
In spring 2016, the Institute welcomed scholars and artists who use their skills, intellects, and talents to further discussions of systemic and overt oppressive violence, to further the work of dismantling systems of inequality and social injustice, and to provide pathways to how activism and social justice can better shape our world.
Ananya Dance Theatre was invited to participate in performance and residency activities, Feb. 5-8, 2016.
February 6 Garrison Theater, Scripps College Performing Arts Center
Roktim: Nurture Incarnadine
Garrison Theater, Scripps College
In a performance that celebrates the intersection of classical Indian and folk dance traditions, street theater, and social justice, and that places women artists of color at the center, Ananya Dance Theatre presented Roktim: Nurture Incarnadine at the Garrison Theater.
February 7 Richardson Dance Studio
Community Dialogue: Ananya Chatterjea
Contemporary Artistic/Cultural Production in an Era of Police States, Race Violence, and Corporate Globalization
Ananya Chatterjea, ADT’s artistic director, and the artists in the company identify as cultural activists who create “people powered dances of transformation™.” Ryan Hagan, writing for the San Bernardino Sun, related the discussion of 34 dancers with Chatterjea and her company about the role of dance, social justice, and activism.
Richardson Dance Studio
Choreographing Identity: Dancing Our Stories
In this workshop, co-sponsored by the Office of Dean of Students, participants worked through games and embodied exercises to create a sense of community and connection, and with improvised movement and text to create choreographies that shared the participants’ stories. This particular exploration was based on the theme of healing at a time of violence.
The program of ADT activities was presented in partnership with the Alexa Fullerton Hampton ’42 Endowed Speaker Fund, Scripps College Humanities Institute, the Office of the President and Board of Trustees at Scripps College, Scripps Communities of Resources and Empowerment, President’s Advisory Committee of Diversity and Inclusion, Scripps College Anthropology Department, Scripps College Hispanic Studies Department, Core Curriculum in Interdisciplinary Humanities,s Asian American Student Union, Pacific Basin Institute (Pomona College), Asian Studies Program (Pomona College), Office of International Initiatives (Pomona College), and the 7 College Asian American Advisory Board.
“Table 13”: Roundtable discussions included representatives from Asha for Education, Ananya Dance Theatre, and Bollywood Dance Scene Twin Cities. Asha raises funds for teachers’ salaries, child nutrition, and instructional materials at six schools in India.
Nearly 200 people gathered for the 2016 Connect India event held at the Minnetonka Community Center, Feb. 6, 2016. Ananya Dance Theatre’s board chair, Gina Kundan, and managing director, Gary Peterson, stepped out to attend.
Purnima Desari, classical dancer, performed as part of the Connect India festivities. Here, with ADT’s Gary Peterson (l) and Gina Kundan (r).
Connect India is a platform for all Indian organizations in Minnesota to share missions and goals and to seek ways to cooperate and collaborate. It is sponsored by the 40,000 member India Association of Minnesota.
The evening’s festivities included a keynote address by Minnesota House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, who visited Delhi and Hyderabad with the U.S. State Department in October 2015.
ADT ready to dance at IDS. L-R: Jay Galtney, Emma Marlar, Renée Copeland, Chitra Vairavan, Leila Awadallah, Ananya Chatterjea, Prakshi Malik, Lela Pierce; front: Kealoha Ferreira, Magnolia Yang Sao Yia. Photo by Gary Peterson
The third in a series of four “Radical Recess” performances in public spaces around downtown Minneapolis included Ananya Dance Theatre, Feb. 5.
Our dancers opened the lunch-time event at the IDS Center Crystal Court, performing “Emerging from Shadows,” stories of people who push through the darkness into which they have been cast to emerge into voice and light.
Ananya Dance Theatre at Metro State University, Dec. 14, 2015. Coalition of Asian American Leaders
Members of Ananya Dance Theatre performed at CAAL Ignites: Education and Economics, sponsored by the Coalition of Asian American Leaders, at Metropolitan State University, St. Paul, December 14.
CAAL invited Asian American leaders and institutional decision-makers to see, understand, and explore the actions that can be taken to move forward on education and economics with Asian Minnesotans in 2016.
Jay Galtney, Renée Copeland, Ananya Chatterjea, Hui Wilcox at Metro State University, Dec. 14, 2015.
In 2014, CAAL engaged over 300 Asian Minnesotan leaders who informed and prioritized issues that they believed could be worked on together for the good of the whole community. Over 20 issues were identified. Further conversations helped prioritize education and economics as the two issues that are critical for the community’s future prosperity. They then formed two work groups, who have been learning more about the issues, the data, and most importantly, listening to the people behind the numbers.
Ananya Chatterjea, Chitra Vairavan, Prakshi Malik at SOUL Food Monologues
Ananya Dance Theatre performed artistic interludes for the SOUL Food Monologues show at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, December 11.
The performance was part of an evening culmination of the Hope Community Food Listening Project: a two-and-a-half year process involving local organizations and more than 400 people in community conversations about food access and food justice in the Phillips community of Minneapolis and beyond.
The Feed the Roots Community Food Listening Report provides insights into the experiences and creativity of Phillips community residents, serving as a call to action for organizations, funders, policy makers, and other committed to change rooted in community.
SOUL Food Monologues at Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Dec. 11, 2015
Food Justice Activist and Urban Goddess, LaDonna Redmond, has led several local food leaders through a StoryHealer workshop, designed to uncover and promote the powerful food and justice stories of everyday people working for change. At its core, the SOUL Food Monologues is about authentic expression, creating community, and transforming experiences from grief, trauma, pain, into awareness, insight, wisdom. These elements meld together to create a heart-centered, soul-based opportunity for deep understanding and healing to occur.
The Catherine G. Murphy Gallery at St. Catherine University provided the staging area for IN RESPONSE: An Open Rehearsal of Visual Arts shared by members of Ananya Dance Theatre and two visual art installations, Thursday, December 10.
ADT dancers with David Byrd’s paintings. Photo Petronella Ytsma
ADT’s dancers responded to the work of two artists, David Byrd, “War Is Always With Us,” and Jody Isaacson , “Form and Memory,” with a 50-minute movement meditation on violence, madness, and breath.
On arrival, audience members were invited to light votive candles on the gallery’s entry steps, and all eventually moved with the dancers among Isaacson’s installation of wax pendulums.
Carol Lee Chase, Art/Art History Department Chair and Associate Professor, curated the installations. Her friend, Isaacson, introduced her to Byrd’s paintings.
Dancers and audience move in meditation. Photo Petronella Ytsma
“Form and Memory”: Installation artist Jody Isaacson installs more than 160 hand dipped life pendulums from the gallery ceiling. Each wax form represents a person, now passed away, from Isaacson’s life. One dip for each year of an individual life accumulates into a candle pendulum that represents the time spent to remember each individual. Each relationship builds the installation, the artist’s life history currently suspended in the gallery.
“War Is Always With Us”: For 30 years, the late David Byrd worked as a night orderly in the psychiatric ward in a Veterans Administration Medical Hospital in Montrose, NY. The series of paintings illustrate the daily routines and individual personalities of institutionalized veterans. Byrd’s careful compositions reflect the isolation and desperation of mental illness, which few other artists have explored with such empathy and understanding.
Ananya Chatterjea. Photo P. Ytsma
The Catherine G. Murphy Gallery is located in the Visual Arts Building on the campus of St. Catherine University, 2004 Randolph Avenue, St. Paul. Gallery hours are M-F 8-8, S-S noon-6. “Form and Memory” and “War Is Always With Us” are open free to the public through December 18, 2015.