The University of Utah was thrilled to host Minneapolis’s modern Indian-Fusion Dance Company this past week, leading to their performance on the 28th. Ananya Dance Theatre began in 2004, and according to their website, their mission is to “intersect Contemporary Indian American Dance with a philosophy of social justice to create original dance theater about the extraordinary work and dreams of women around the world, and to inspire audiences through visual and emotional engagement.” Ananya Dance Theatre prides itself on being a company for artist women of color, and puts a strong emphasis on sharing their stories through movement, and encouraging other women to do the same.
The show, “Shyamali: Sprouting Words”, began with acknowledgments to contributors and sponsors, including the U’s Office of Sustainability who worked closely with the company while they visited Salt Lake City. The performance “explores how dissent fuels life force and growth, recognizes the courage of women who speak up and talk back to sustain communities against injustice, and celebrates women who refuse to be broken. Inspired by the courage of women around the world, “Shyamali” means “dark green” in Bengali, and invokes the resilience of grass, which springs up when trod upon.”
The company featured a three-act performance that ran for 92 minutes without intermission, a true testament to the dancers’ endurance. Between the first and second act, the audience enjoyed a vocal performance by Utah’s own Janzell Tutor, who performed a piece named “Goddess of New Dawns.” My personal favorite was a piece in Act Two entitled “From the archives of our bodies”, which was an interesting mix of traditional Indian moves with modern dance technique, equal parts graceful and powerful. The phenomenal athleticism the dancers demonstrated performing both intricate and broad choreography was astounding. The music ranged from trance-like slow beats to violent drumming, and everything in between. Each act was a complete surprise with red lipstick smearing, feet stomping, hand waving and power poses, leaving the audience in complete suspense for what was to come next.
In the choreographer’s notes, they dedicate the performance as a “tribute to all women across the worlds who have stood up against oppression, despite the risk; who have constantly been at the edge of innovation as they have refused to be cowed; whose courage and persistence are historic even when they do not make it into the books of history.”
Artistic Director Ananya Chatterjea’s love of both the arts and cultural activism blend seamlessly. The company stresses the importance of community, solidarity and the need for women to continue to stand up to injustice. To learn more about the company’s philosophy, activism or how to get involved, check out AnanyaDanceTheater.org.