"Dance your anger." On Thursday night at the Southern Theater nine women and one man, led by choreographer Ananya Chatterjea, did just that. They heeded the poetic words of performer Laurie Carlos and drew upon every ounce of fight within their beings to take on the difficult but ultimately rewarding emotional journey from dismay to hope that defines "Moreechika: Season of Mirage."
Chatterjea has developed a series of works for Ananya Dance Theatre focused on the environmental, economic and safety challenges that threaten communities -- and particularly women of color -- around the globe.
She deploys a singular, highly exacting movement approach rooted in the Indian dance form of Odissi as well as the Chhau martial-arts tradition and yoga. Past works explored issues around land rights and gold mining. With "Moreechika" Chatterjea, in collaboration with Carlos, tackles another controversial topic -- oil extraction.
The subject is painfully clear from the opening image -- dancers wrapped in large black plastic sheets, their bodies twisted and trembling, like sea birds struggling in the viscous aftermath of an oil spill. Composer Greg Schutte's soul-rumbling score is murky and dissonant, occasionally punctuated by haunting cries. Annie Katsura Rollins' shadow puppets, projected onto the back wall, are piled onto one another, their limbs tangled.
From this indelible moment "Moreechika" methodically wends its way through scenes exploring how petroleum as a commodity affects most everything in the world, from the accumulation of wealth to the beauty products we buy to the fatal toll on humanity and nature alike.
The dancers -- particularly a chameleon-like Renée Copeland and the fiery Chitra Vairavan -- are all powerful, with their stamping feet and piercing stares, but Chatterjea's choreography also leaves room for brutal beauty and vulnerability. This is most apparent in Sarah Beck-Esmay's poignant depiction of a spiraling descent into grief.
"Moreechika" cannot sustain itself by rage alone. Carlos also says, "Dance your joy." The work evolves into a welcome healing ritual when rice showers down from the rafters, a reference to the cries for sustenance so often drowned out by the demand for fuel. The performers, and audience members invited onstage, contemplate the transformed space. A girl shapes a heart-like pattern from a rice pile, channeling all of her youthful concentration into an act of creation, not destruction.
Caroline Palmer writes frequently about dance.