Some formative moments in my life involving dance: winning a dancing contest in my driveway when I was a little kid by doing the worm; getting down at Tet celebrations every year in my little three piece suit even when I couldn't dance; my first slow dance at the Waite House; prom my Senior year at South (the last time I would ever rock a blue suit); a short career as a DJ; dancing well enough at a couple of clubs to get some unsolicited and completely unexpected phone numbers thrust into my hands in my 20's; voting for Kaba Modern and JabbaWockeeZ on America's Best Dance crew; seeing Hmong B-Boys and B-Girls at I.C.E.; going with a bunch of Asian American friends to see Planet B-Boy at the Lagoon and being surprised that the movie featured three Asian teams (and have the other crew of Asian Americans who happened to go on the same night grill us in the movie theater lobby as if we were there to battle).
But the first time I remember thinking seriously about how dance and politics were intertwined was when I went to see Joanna Kadi speak about her book, Thinking Class, way back in the day, at the Hungry Mind bookstore in Saint Paul. She spoke about the differences in perception between ballet and Arab dance, particularly dancing that would happen during family gatherings. I don't want to butcher her ideas too much here, but it basically made me question the institutionalization of art and how there are class, race, and gender hierarchies that have an influence on how we appreciate dance.
In recent years, I've had the great joy of attending shows featuring Ananya Dance Theater, currently set to present the final installment of their trilogy on environmental justice (Pipaashaa, 2007, Daak, 2008, and Ashesh Barsha, this week at the Southern Theater, September 10-13; for more info go here: http://www.ananyadancetheatre.org). Their work is beautiful, powerful, and provocative – if you haven't seen them yet, their show is an absolute must. It will make you feel spoiled to be a Minnesotan, to be able to witness such incredible and important work. If you've already been a longtime supporter, this is your chance to check out the last show in their trilogy.
Two of the company took some time out of their intensely busy schedules to talk to me and answer my stupid questions for this blog: Ananya Chatterjea, ADT's Artistic Director and Choreographer, and Jasmine Tang, Ph.D. candidate in American Studies at the
Why is Ananya Dance Theater important to you?
Ananya: ADT is important to me because it is one of the only spaces that allows me to bring together, and integrate completely, my two big passions: artistic excellence and social justice. Where else can I work with a fierce group of brilliant, thoughtful, artistically talented group of women who are equally committed to the articulation of metaphor through breath, rhythm, line, and of a politics of alliance, and raising
questions about inequities?
Jasmine: Aside from my partner and a very small circle of friends, this company is the reason I can call
Tell us about this upcoming show, Ashesh Barsha.
Ananya: It marks the culmination of our trilogy on environmental justice. When we began this exploration in 2006, I had thought this might result in the 2007 show. But I quickly realized that a short engagement with environmental justice would not even begin to address these issues. This lead to the trilogy resulting in Pipaashaa in 2007, which explored issues of industrial toxic spillages and the ensuing "body burden", Daak in 2008, exploring appropriation of indigenous lands and the concomitant breakdown of eco-systems. Now with Ashesh Barsha, I have faced one of the most difficult choreographic challenges ever. Issues of energy and climate justice are abstract and it has been challenging to create dance around issues that are large and relatively abstract, yet embedded in our daily lives. What I have realized again and again is that what has happened to the environment is a result of historic inequities and atrocities, that these have then disproportionately affected global communities of color, and finally, that the solutions being proposed to address these issues often heighten existing inequities.
Jasmine: It has helped me realize that the frameworks with which we approach climate change issues are not working. Not to sound cliché, but it's about the need for a paradigm shift. Our collaborators (Cecilia and Shalini) have worked with us extensively to try to demonstrate the urgency of such a shift, and it took me several ADT workshops to understand what they mean.
But also: these inequities seem to repeat themselves through time. It's also a global phenomenon, and it seems to affect people of color the most (one word: Katrina). Or, in the film, The Carbon Connection, we see how "location matters" (as Shalini puts it): planting monoculture eucalyptus trees in
What can we learn from this show?
Jasmine: We have a section in the show that's about complicity - how we are all complicit here. This is theoretically for me the most intriguing aspect of the show. We go beyond binary constructions of power and see how we as individuals play into this system. This is not to downplay institutionalized forms of climate injustice, either, but to recognize our own roles in maintaining these hegemonic constructions of climate injustice.
Ananya: I am an artist and I have no expertise in policy-making. But I, along with the dancers, have tried to engage with community partners and learn as much about the issues as possible. And then we have tried to create emotional access into the pain, loss, fortitude and breath of human lives caught in this maelstrom. We are dancing with passion to bring light to what lies underneath our daily lives and hope audiences, particularly from our communities, will join us in asking these questions.
Tickets for Ashesh Barsha: Unending Monsoon: http://www.southerntheater.org/
Box Office: 612-340-1725
September 10-13, 2009
Thurs. at 7:30pm
Fri.&Sat. at 8pm
Sun. at 7:30pm
Post-show q&a Fri.&Sat.
Film to follow Fri. performance
Pre-show game Sun. at 6:30pm