While Ananya Dance Theatre’s “Aahvaan: Invoking the Cities” may not have included any speeches or marching, the performance, commissioned by the Ordway as part of its 22-day celebration of the new concert hall, provided a different kind of protest. Taking on issues as varied as how highway construction has affected communities of color, police violence, environmental issues and the treatment of the Dakota people, the evening was both celebratory and subversive, with performances taking place inside the theater and around the lobby.
When patrons arrived, they were handed a charming hand-drawn map, created by scenography designer Anne Henly in collaboration with Artistic Director Ananya Chatterjea and the Ordway, that illustrated the lobby spaces where performances would occur during the first half of the show. Audiences were expected to visit each of five stations.
Each station had a titled performance, such as the “Empress of Whimsy,” a solo piece by Hui Niu Wilcox where she sat atop an enormous sculpture made of papier-mâché that served as her elegant dress.
Other stations required more audience participation, whether that be writing down a wish for the conservation of water and placing it into a large bowl of water stirred by a young girl, or walking through a fabricated hallway filled with dancers carrying traffic signs that said such things as “What color permeates your membrane?”
In another section up the stairs, patrons were asked to take a teardrop made from cloth and join a dance circle in a piece that asked the audience to meditate on the treatment of the Dakota people in Minnesota.
It could be frustrating to try to see the performers, with so many people standing, which can be a problem with non-traditional spaces. For the most part, though, it was a way to shake up the idea of performance, allowing audiences to experience dance by participating in it.
Eventually, the audience was led into the new concert hall by the gorgeous voices of Mankwe Ndosi and Tiyo Siolo. They and other performers shouted “Open the doors!” as a rallying call. Once inside, a more traditional dance concert took place, still with social justice themes.
In her work, Chatterjea incorporates contemporary Indian dance as well as elements of yoga, with the bendable Chitra Vairavan stealing the show with her incredible flexibility. The live music, which occurred throughout both acts in conjunction with recorded music, featured numerous talented musicians and was among the most exciting aspects of the production.
Sheila Regan is a Minneapolis writer