Resistance and resilience in the face of social injustice form the basis of Minneapolis-based Ananya Dance Theatre’s new multimedia dance-theater work Shyamali: Sprouting Words, Oct. 13 and 14 at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater.
The Indian contemporary dance company’s 90-minute, intermissionless dance-theater work, choreographed by artistic director/activist Ananya Chatterjea, gets its title from the Bengali word for “dark green.” Chatterjea says the color invokes the resilience of grass, springing back up when trodden upon. In the work, she relates that resilience to that of women who speak out against injustice.
“Women are on the frontline of issues of [social] injustice,” says Chatterjea, speaking by phone from Providence, R.I., where she was attending a symposium. “What does it mean for women to stand at edge of resistance all the time?”
The non-narrative multimedia work for eight women was commissioned by the Kelly-Strayhorn and other supporters. It premiered last month in St. Paul, Minn., and is in part a response to recent events including the 2016 police shooting of Philando Castile, in Minnesota, and protests over the Dakota Access Pipeline. Dissent, says Chatterjea, fuels life force and growth. The work celebrates women who speak up and the courage of those who refuse to be broken.
In the work, the dancers employ “Yorchha,” Chatterjea’s signature movement language that blends classical Indian dance, yoga and an Indian martial-arts form. For this piece, Chatterjea also invokes the aesthetic of the Dakini — a wrathful female spirit in Tantric Hinduism — that traditionally is embodied as destruction, chaos and transformation. “I want the dancers to show up in the work as women in a state of unraveling,” says Chatterjea. “As people in the world, not as perfect dancers.”
Performed to an original score by Greg Schutte, along with an original video backdrop by Darren Johnson and set design by Joel Sass, the work is a theatrical experience. Exemplifying its subtitle, “Sprouting Words,” the work also incorporates original text and poetry from Chatterjea.
“I am interested in seeing resistance as acts of love,” says Chatterjea. “This work is a journey the audiences can take with us as we become the very spirit of grass.”