Ananya Dance Theatre's "Tushaanal: Fires of Dry Grass" is inspired by gold and flames. The most volatile aspects of each combine into a full-evening piece that alternately shimmers and scorches with fervent intensity. Created by choreographer Ananya Chatterjea with co-director Laurie Carlos, this intricately wrought yet wholly powerful work is the second in a four-part series examining how women of color experience and resist violence across the globe.
Carlos launches "Tushaanal" with provocative words: "Some of us have lives as women." Considering the role of gold in dowry deaths in East Asia and the deadly desire for wealth that sustains environmentally-damaging mining conditions in many parts of the world, this short statement manages to broadly convey how the collective impact of geography, culture, politics and commerce can influence the destiny of an individual woman.
Chatterjea's choreography initially radiates beauty and extravagance. The essential ingredients of her contemporary movement perspective are drawn from several Indian-based forms - Odissi dance, yoga practice and the martial-arts tradition of Chhau. Her 11 dancers bask in Mike Wangen's warm lighting design, their feet stamping out staccato rhythms and their faces communicating an indomitable blend of strength and sensuality. Chitra Vairavan's exquisite pliability is like molten lava has replaced her bones. Kenna Cottman and Chatterjea engage in a duet that finds the two formidable women entangled, eye-to-unblinking-eye, murmuring personal narratives. They are warriors, allies, sisters. The combined energy is explosive.
But greed is a destructive force, and it gradually infects the proceedings. The performers pursue the shiny objects around them until the gold becomes more burden than blessing. Their movement is urgent and emotionally raw. As Chatterjea performs a searching solo, the sonically rich score by Greg Schutte (with musicians/vocalists Carlos, Mankwe Ndosi, Pooja Goswami, and Michelle Kinney) assumes a nightmarish quality. Guttural voices, screams and discordant sounds summon primal memories that burn with centuries of pent-up fury.
Even as "Tushaanal" journeys into the darkest corners of human capabilities, the work also illuminates with its hard-won wisdom. While the dancers struggle to find something of worth untainted by blood or money, Carlos offers a final observation: Glitter is "the beautiful replacement of fear." So long as this illusion holds sway, the harm and exploitation continues. Without it, there is hope for freedom.