November 29, 2011

Thoughts on Tushaanal Fires of Dry Grass

By Kulvinder Arora

What does it mean for women of color to collectively perform their relationship to gold? Ananya Dance Theatre explores this question in their latest dance performance piece, Tushaanal Fires of Dry Grass. In the opening scene of Tushaanal Fires of Dry Grass, dancers engage the glitter of gold. Blanketed by a sheer golden coverlet, a dancer writhes underneath exposing the shimmer and sheen of shiny objects. By beginning their work with the allure of gold, Ananya Dance Theatre exposes what literally lies beneath the mining, production and consumption of gold. Second in a series on the systemic violence that affects women, gold is seen as an alluring resource that belies virulent exploitation. As the dancer writhes underneath the shimmering blanket of gold at the left of the stage, the other dancers perform to the right their conflicted relationship to the shimmering play. The dancers seem enticed and yet controlled in their movements. One is left to wonder what will come next and one has a sense that “all that glitters is not gold.”

With great skill in movement interspersed with spoken word and haunting music of women’s wails, Ananya Dance Theatre exposes how gold affects women. Some of the themes they explore are the lure of gold for power and status embodied in a story they tell about the Empress Dowager Cixi, gold as a source of oppression for women who work in the mines, gold as a lure of survival for sex workers who live around the mines, and gold as a form of control of women in dowry exchanges. What is impressive about Tushannal is not only the range of stories that Ananya Dance Theatre exposes in women’s relationship to gold, but also how these stories are artistically rendered. Starting form the Indian Odissi dance form as inspiration, the dancers combine several other traditions of dance, yoga and martial arts to create a syncretic form that speaks not only contemporaneity in dance but also solidarity in struggles. Unlike modern dance, which speaks of individual self-expression, Ananya Dance Theatre speaks of how women of color bodies inspire relationships based in unity.

I return to the question with which I began. What does it mean for women of color to collectively perform their relationship to gold? Ananya Dance Theatre builds not only an aesthetic vocabulary to express solidarities between women of color but a real dialogue about what brings women together and what separates them. Gold, as a natural resource much sought after, illustrates perfectly the idea that capitalist patriarchies generate competition between women over resources. What then does resistance to capitalist patriarchy mean in relation to gold? Women of color share in histories of colonial exploitation of the western world of non-western labor exploitation. Resistance, in this instance, means different things for different women. Sex workers around the mines have a different relation to the allure of gold then women who suffer from dowry exploitation, and yet if we come to the realization that these women’s stories are linked through the structures of capitalist patriarchy, we realize also that resistance may look different in these circumstances conditioned as they are by class and sexuality. Nevertheless, women in these circumstances may come to see how their resistance is linked rather than prioritizing their differences. This is the message that Ananya Dance Theatre communicates so well with its expressive movements but also how the group comes together to create such a piece of work.

Ananya Dance Theatre creates solidarities across women of color’s struggles by creating a strong woman-centered space. In this day and age where discussions of post-race and post-feminism pervade our culture, the importance of such a space is not to be overlooked. More than a movement vocabulary, Tushaanal creates a vocabulary for collectivities of resistance. Each dancer contributed to the piece through research and dialogue and the strong connections forged through that dialogue are reflected in the beautiful dance movements.

Ananya Chatterjea’s vision to create a woman of color dance group of women from different communities speaks to what is missing from racial and gendered discourses which privilege representation over inter-relationality. By having their voices heard loudly and clearly Ananya Dance Theatre is a space where each women of color performer can express her loving support, conflicted realities, and sympathies for other women.  In this way, Ananya Dance Theatre is more than a performance group; it revises what performance and communication mean to people of color communities.


Kulvinder Arora is a cultural critic and Professor who teaches courses on transnational film, feminist theory and gender studies. She is currently working on a book project on positive representations of women of color in feature films that is provisionally tiled Plotting Resistance: Acts of Social Justice in Women of Color Films. In shifting the conversation to positive representations, she asks the question “How does viewing women of color resisting oppression rather than being victims of it alter social stereotypes?” By looking at women of color’s struggles across racial and ethnic communities, she argues that there is something productive in seeing similarities between women of color to build solidarities between them and yet important differences between nationalism, patriarchy and colonialism need to be recognized to see how women resist oppression differently.

July 28, 2011

Dust and the relationship to Gold

By Lori Young-Williams

I watched a movie the other night Dreams of Dust. Ananya said it would help with me writing the blog. I don’t know if it will help but it has stuck with me. I am still thinking about the images from the movie.

Picture a screen shot of the dessert. Not much, some trees, sand, rough land, and in the foreground small piles of sand, rock, mounds of rock and dust. The wind blows and the everywhere you look the hue is gold. The wind blows again and out of the ground up from the mound comes a dark face, dust caked on the face and in the hair. Flashlights along both sides of the head held on by a headband, and a bag of rocks. More heads and faces, male. Climbing out of these holes in the ground. These are the gold mines.

I was struck by the imagery of the people living most their lives digging for gold in the fox hole tunnels, lighting matches to make sure there is enough oxygen to breath. With pic axe and burlap bag the men go down and look for gold. One can almost feel the claustrophobia. Once back to the surface, they take their bags to the compound to hammer, bound the rock to see if there is any gold. Break up the rock and hope.

The movie was about a man whose wife told him to leave after their daughter was killed. The women in the movie were the typical Madonna/Whore dichotomy. One woman had a daughter and was allowed to stay on at the compound, after her husband died in a mine. She stood and watched the men go down and the men come up. She stood and sifted dust, and for any flecks of gold. The other women in the compound, around the mine, were looking to spend time with men who had money (gold) to spend. One woman said the main character was crazy for not wanting to find gold. That was the whole purpose for being there in the first place, almost the only reason for living.

The women were in the background, they held up the community through taking care: feeding, serving, and giving of themselves. And yet their lives are just as shifty and changing as the men. They too are looking to strike it rich. They want the creature comforts money/gold can provide.

But to get gold and keep it at this frontline, is hard. To rise up means someone must die. The bitter truth is one can be replaced. There are more out there willing to search for the gold, sift, break up rock, dig deep in the mines and lay down with the men to find the gold.

The land is speckled with wiry trees
vast colored in gold, tan, ochre
fills cracks and cakes feet, hair and hands

Digging is hard, but the beer
afterwards will go down easy with a
Blue Blue – amphetamine
Women stand for hours
sifting dust, blown in
around, but the comfort of a body
will help for tonight

Women push to save lives and
keep the rhythm to get the work dona
Women push to connect with life through
gold, to put food on the table.
cakes the hands and fills
the lungs
Seeking the fire, the specks of glitter
to become the next rich one.
Leave the mines a big man,

Leave the mines with a future of Comfort.
Go and come back with gold
help the family.

July 26, 2011

Violence, Destruction, and Complicity: Mining Practices that Bring your Bling

By Gina Kundan

Members of Ananya Dance Theatre began researching Gold and presenting findings in January 2011.

The first topic: Gold & The Democratic Republic of Congo was presented by former dancer Sherie Apungu. The northeast region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) holds hundreds of mines with a seemingly unlimited supply of gold. Are the miners and their supporting communities benefiting from these riches? Hardly. As one Congolese miner described it: “We are cursed because of our gold.  All we do is suffer.  There is no benefit to us.”   In fact, the discovery of the Congolese gold has created decades of violence and instability in the region, with various armed political factions battling for power and control.

The miners have no choice but to continue working regardless of who is in charge—resistance of any kind is met with torture, rape, and murder— according to Human Rights Watch, “more than sixty thousand people have died due to direct violence in this part of Congo alone.” Miners are forced to work in horrific conditions with a blatant disregard for safe mining practices.

Multinational corporations continue to forge partnerships and support political leaders to ensure continued profit from the region while also ensuring continued violence.  Human Rights Watch mentions AngloGold Ashanti—one of the world’s largest gold producers—a company that publicly boasts a commitment to corporate social responsibility while patently ignoring the human rights violations that keep productions flowing.

Similar situations can be found virtually anywhere gold has been discovered. Dancer Brittany Radke presented her research on Gold in Chile, a country that was discovered as a result of the Spanish quest for gold. Gold mining in Chile began in the late 16th century, but recent satellite technology has led to the discovery of gold deposits beneath glaciers in the Andes Mountains. Mining of this gold has been linked to rapid glacial melt and is negatively impacting local farmers and poisoning the local water supply.

Worldwide the desire to attain gold by any means seemingly outweighs the profoundly negative impact gold mining practices have on individuals and the environment.  In the next issue, I will share what we’ve learned about human desire and discuss the sex work industry in gold mining communities.

July 21, 2011

Cost of Desire, a poem - inspired by research and movement

The dancers and apprentices of Ananya Dance Theatre, find ways to interpret the information they are experiencing, learning, and researching. ADT’s apprentice Negest, has found her vessel in the form of words, a poem inspired from research and movement experience. We hope you enjoy!

Poem by Negest Woldeamanuale

We rise and fall
Rise and fall
Our backs tied to a string of hope
Rising and falling
In the holes of the desert
We rise and fall
Rise and fall
Scavenging for a stone
Digging for life
In ruined lands, polluted rivers, and destroyed forests
Breathing dust and silicon
Burrowing deep into the veins of earth
Betraying our ancestors’ soil
Feeding labor to our children
We rise and fall
Rise and fall
For rock, for bread, for illusion, for more
We rise and fall
Rise and fall
Addicted to terror, violence and struggle
Deceived by glitter and sparkle
We rise and fall
Rise and fall
Blinded, deafened, and unaware

Lost in scramble of want
Essentials forgotten
Greed exceeding need
We rise and fall
Rise and fall
Rushing to escape poverty
Refusing to see, hear and speak harm
We rise and fall
Rise and fall
The promised price fleeing
To western borders
Values elevated
With conflict and strife
We rise and fall
Rise and fall
In the glowing hues of dusk
Bathed in colors of gold
In mud-splattered skin
In contaminated wells
We rise and fall
Rise and fall
Panning for traces of the precious metal
For glittering beauty
Existing in remote and fragile corners
We rise and fall
Rise and fall
Drained in sand
In allure and fascination
Exploited deposits
Bidding to save fractions
Waiving to accept invitation to destruction
Bending for the system
Fetching horror
Legalizing trouble
We rise and fall

Rise and fall
Possessed by gold
In explosives, toxic gasses and collapsed tunnels
We rise and fall
Rise and fall
Waiting for stroke of luck
For Fruitless reverie
We rise and fall
Rise and fall
To quench our desire
In dreams of dust
In golden reality

July 19, 2011

Reflections on the May 14 Rehearsal of Tushaanal: Fires of Dry Grass

Contribution by Lori Young-Williams

My first time sitting through a rehearsal of Tushaanal: Fires of Dry Grass. They are currently working on the part where the women who have lived close to the gold mines, lost family, friends, lives friends decide to torch the place. Gold becomes flames. The gold of jewelry, flecks, and rocks of gold become golden embers, destroying what gold has made of their community, their lives.

Watching and getting the message through
swing  swing  swing  hold
Moving arms from shoulders down through
to the feet    Stomp
Dip, moving arm through the wind
Dip, swipe floor with leg
“Come out like a burst!” Ananya says…
“There’s a left and a right…”

And come they do.
With hands bending at the waist
turn and roll to the side
Clap!    Fire Burn

Lips of fire, women fan the flames
Pour gasoline, kerosene, anything
to ignite, the women
who become
the flames.

You can see this through the movement and placement of their hands, through the twisting and bending of the dancers bodies. The rise and fall as if wind is blowing, spreading the fire through the camp, the community, the mine. The fits and starts of fire is made into dance movement and gives life to something else…

Burn it all and rebuild. When fire burns the soil is fertile and gives life. The women who have lived through Gold, around the mines in the cities close to the mines are trying to find something new.

While at the rehearsal, Laurie Carlos popped in to go over the language of the performance. And I took away a line – The Promise of Glitter. The promise that gold will make one beautiful, rich, wanted. And yet the promise doesn’t. It doesn’t make you whole. The promise of glitter is cheap. It’s hard to get and easy to lose. Always, expecting it to fill something. And it doesn’t. The Promise of Glitter leads to the Birth of Flames.

Hunger…that’s the promise of gold.

July 12, 2011

Insight on our process

By Gina Kundan

Ananya Dance Theatre’s projects have always begun with researching the subject matter. In past years we have brought in leading experts to facilitate workshops that help dancers embody and articulate our movement vocabulary. This year we’ve taken a slightly different approach. Instead of bringing in outside experts to educate us about gold, we are educating ourselves and becoming our own experts. Dancers have been researching “Gold” in all of its many aspects and asking many questions: Where does it come from? How is it collected? What is the impact on the environment and communities? Why does it hold so much worldwide value?

Dancers have selected individual vantage points and are presenting their findings to the group. Together we’ve gathered an amazingly diverse array of perspectives on subjects like: mining in the Congo and South America, traditional customs and practices in diverse communities, Buddhist rituals in Thailand, The sex trade in gold mining towns, and exploring human desire.

Over the next several months I will be contributing gold research updates and sharing workshop reviews for this blog in effort to keep our supporters informed and engaged. In the next issue, I will share what we’ve learned about mining and its multiple impacts on environment and community.

July 7, 2011

Kartee is Riwa

By Lori Young-Williams

I was asked to be part of an artistic performance for Refugee & Immigrant Woman for Change (RIWC) – International Women’s Day at St. Catherine University. The performance was speaking to gender equity. I was the narrator, reading statements from various family and community members in a refugee woman’s life. The performance was an adaptation by Kao Kalia Yang to highlight to highlight findings from the RIWC focus groups conducted late last year.

I was Kartee, the narrator, the only one speaking through the performance as different family  and community members, dancers, wrapped a scarf around the women in the middle who were named Riwa. Kartee summoned these members to join Riwa on stage.

Here is my take on the performance and how it touched me. These are thoughts written the day of the performance, March 8, 2011.

Strong women are global

Kartee is Riwa. She lives inside Riwa’s body. She is part of Riwa’s community. She is part of her culture. Kartee has been feared in times past and present. But she is still with us. Riwa need not worry. Kartee is there. She just needs Riwa to light the spark…

As women we forget that being a leader is not a bad thing. Wishing, wanting, needing more is not a bad thing. Kartee is a spirit we must exercise.  When Kartee is silent, sometimes it doesn’t do us any good.

Kartee is the symbol of strength in the performance that was done by Ananya Dance Theater at the International Women’s Day Conference at St. Cate’s on March 8, 2011. Kartee is strength and Riwa has to do what she can to get through the days and doesn’t know what standing up for herself will bring her. But Riwa knows lying down is not the answer.

Kartee grows in Riwa. Riwa , her family, and her community learn to accept and appreciate Kartee. And Kartee finds her space and place in Riwa’s life.

As a woman of color living in the Midwest I have had to re-learn the importance of being true to myself. I knew how to be true to my family and my community, but not to myself. Somewhere along the way I learned through example, media, and social cues not to take care of myself first. That was selfish. But tapping into Kartee women regain themselves again and that makes their communities that much stronger.

Kartee lives within me and joins me, now on my journey – our journey.

I ask Kartee to take up space in our lives.

June 25, 2011

Reflections of social justice - a look to the future.

By Ananya Chatterjea

Life has its own way of teaching process and projects have their way of deciding the time they will need to manifest themselves. Indeed, when, in 2006, we were talking about embarking on making a piece about environmental justice, little did we realize that we had just landed on the tip of an iceberg! That one year of working in collaboration with environmental justice advocates transformed our creative process and allowed us to realize the urgent need for sustained artistic inquiry into these deep issues inside human lives.

So, what began as one piece in 2006 became a three-year trilogy about different facets of environmental justice, and what we learned in those three years, the questions we learned to ask, the hidden “footprints” and silenced human costs we learned to watch out for, have become part of our research and creative process forever.

These learnings carried us into the next project. I had already learned that in order for artistic work to create a ground swell of questions—which undergirds the social justice work in our creative process—we have to engage with the questions of injustice over a length of time, so that we are immersed in a sustained inquiry without looking to produce answers, so that we have the time to imagine the pain and loss as well as the resistance and alternative perspectives.

The focus on violence on women also reconnected me with some of my earliest work as a choreographer, but now I am able to connect specific issues of violence with larger systemic violences. So the anti-violence quartet which we launched in 2010 works through stories of lives of women through four naturally occurring elements that have been harnessed as capital in ways that have resulted in tremendous violence on women across the world, particularly in global communities of color: land, gold, oil, and water. It seems, as we are progressing in our research, both scholarly and creative, that we are ultimately etching the meta-story of how different forms of violence have dogged women’s lives through time.  Yet so often, we have failed to mark them as violence. And so often, these are stories hidden, stories that have slipped through the cracks of “important” stories and news items, stories that have to be re-imagined from fact and emotional connections.

As we are working on understanding how gold has worked in our lives, I am realizing that this is a very different project than last year’s, when we worked on land. The element we focused on last year was mud, land that sticks to skin, and we traced stories of displacement, exile, dislocation, replacement, and home. This year we are figuring out how stories of loving gifts of gold rings sit side by side with dowry deaths in India, the murder of anti-mining activists in Papua New Guinea intersects with the gold rush that partially fueled the apartheid regime in South Africa, how the mercury pollution of drinking water from artisanal gold mining in Colombia contests the valuation of incredible craftsmanship with gold across so many cultures, and how the inherent invaluable properties of gold makes it indispensable for use in electronic equipment that so many of us use daily, and that ultimately makes us all complicit with the violence that recurs in sites apparently far away from us. The dancers are asking: we find gold beautiful, we desire gold jewelry, but how do we account for the blood on that gold?

In asking these complex questions, I am working with amazing collaborators: the dancers of course, each of who brings powerful perspectives and artistry into the room, and the brilliant Laurie Carlos, who keeps on pushing us towards the more risky yet necessary artistic choices. The brilliant score that Laurie has been producing with composer and instrumentalist Greg Schutte, vocalist and instrumentalist Mankwe Ndosi, and vocalist Pooja Goswami Pavan, has brought ADT’s work to another dimension. As a range of cultural influences cross in and out of each other in the score, often dynamically coming together, sometimes pulling away from each other, brings alive one of the concepts I have treasured most in working with ADT’s fierce women: that these women are from somewhere specific culturally and politically, but they are also from nowhere and everywhere, they are women of the world, different yet able to dance together. They are women who are able share space and share artistry, but they do not look or dance the same. These are the most likely truth-tellers of these stories we are trying to dance, the griots that will carry us towards making different histories, imagining different possibilities for women…

I am excited to be working on Tushaanal, fires of dry grass, fires that are not high, but are persistent, spreading quickly and difficult to put out. In my mind, Tushaanal is also the fire of an inconsolable affliction. Indeed, when I think about the number of women who lose their lives, who are stuck in loss and pain, because of this continuing circle of violence, I am filled with tremendous grief and rage. I am channeling all of this emotion into the choreographic process, and hoping that Tushaanal can convey the multiple, contesting, emotions that make this fire golden.

June 25, 2011

Welcome to the Blog!

As part of our efforts to continuously connect to our communities we have decided to enter into the realm of blogging. Research conduced by our choreographer, dancers and collaborators informs our work as part of our creative process.  For the first time, ADT is opening this process to the public, something that has only been available to our performers and collaborators. This is our way to deepen conversations, spread awareness, and continue the dialogue outside the studio and beyond the performance.

Two of the main contributors come from the ADT Board of Directors.  Lori Young-Williams, local writer will reflect on the research and rehearsal process.  Visual artist, Ayanna Muata, will create image-collages that explore the thematic foci. Additional contributions will concentrate on community events, interviews with our collaborators and local Artists/Activists, and company spotlights.

Please join our conversation by commenting and contributing often!