Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Dance theater at the intersection of artistic excellence and social justice

Minneapolis, Minnesota
The year 2012 marks the eighth anniversary of Ananya Dance Theatre (ADT) as a creative and performing dance company based in Minneapolis. Led by its founder, Ananya Chatterjea, the ensemble’s 12 dancers employ the classical eastern Indian dance form of Odissi, combined with Yoga and the martial art of Chhau, to create and stage original works rooted in the life experiences of women of color.

Ananya Chatterjea

Chatterjea, a native of Kolkata (Calcutta), India, serves as ADT’s artistic director and choreographer. She also holds the positions of professor, and head of the dance program in the University of Minnesota’s Department of Theatre Arts and Dance.

Her work has been supported and recognized by the Asian Arts Initiative, the McKnight, Jerome, and Bush foundations, Minnesota State Arts Board, City Pages, Minnesota Women’s Press, Black Indian Hispanic Asian Women In Action, and the Minnesota Women’s Political Caucus, among others.

About her company’s work, Chatterjea says, “We pursue excellence in our artistry to forge pathways that generate forces of strength and beauty, galvanize strong communities, and embody a philosophy of possibility and liberation in a shared humanity.” 

ADT’s repertoire consists of more than 24, abstract and evening-length dance narratives built upon social justice themes. For example, the company examined environmental issues and their impact on women’s daily lives in a trilogy of works created over the three years of 2006 to 2009: “Pipaashaa” (extreme thirst), “DAAK” (call to action), and “Ashesh Barsha” (unending monsoon).

More recently, the dancers began a four-part examination of violence against women in the exploitation of land (“Kshoy!,” 2010) and the mining and distribution of gold (“Tushaanal,” 2011). It will complete this expressive study by addressing oil in 2012 (“Moreechika”) and water in 2013 (“Mohona“).

ADT presents one major production in the Twin Cities each year during September, emphasizing excellence of performance over frequency. Its productions, presented since the company’s inception at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis, feature original music, often with live musicians, and original costume, lighting and set designs.

ADT: Dance at the intersection of artistic excellence and social justice
ADT’s work is informed by its dancers’ research about social justice issues that arise from the lives and stories of women of color around the world. Their use of dance as a catalyst to engage audiences in a dialogue that poses questions and re-imagines the world makes constituent response a valued and welcome component of their creative process.

The year 2011 held numerous, accomplishments for this Twin Cities organization with a worldwide influence:

  • Artistic director Chatterjea received a Guggenheim Fellowship in choreography;
  • Performance on International Women’s Day at the College of St. Catherine, sponsored by Refugee and Immigrant Women for Change;
  • Performance at re-opening ceremonies of the Weisman Art Museum;
  • Performance at a presentation by environmental activist Majora Carter at the Ted Mann Concert Hall;
  • Premiere of the evening-length “Tushaanal” at the Southern Theater;
  • Company’s open audition attracted 20 aspiring dancers;
  • Chatterjea presented lectures and solo demonstrations in Spain;
  • Company was represented by performance and booth at the Midwest Arts  Conference, a “trade show” for the arts, and Chatterjea was invited to address “Equity in the Cultural Landscape.”

Over the years, ADT’s work also has been presented in 11 other U.S. cities (including Madison, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, New York, and Los Angeles), nine other states (Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Maine, and California), and nine other countries (Canada, United Kingdom, Germany, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Philippines, and Japan).

ADT’s next Twin Cities production, “Moreechika,” will be presented in September 2012.

Gary Peterson has been a member of the board of directors of Ananya Dance Theatre since 2009. Photos: V. Paul Virtucio.

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