Ananya Dance Theatre is leading a revolution on the Cowles Center stage this weekend. "Neel: Blutopias of Radical Dreaming" explores the transformative power of women's dreams. It begins as a descent into the stuff of nightmares and ends with the performers leading an exuberant celebration in the aisles.
The powerful evening-length project, which premiered Thursday night, came out of an exploration of how women from indigenous groups and global communities of color use dreams to understand reality and possibility. The stories are interpreted through choreographer Ananya Chatterjea's practice of Yorccha, a blend of contemporary Indian dance that draws upon traditional Odissi forms, yoga and martial arts.
Chatterjea and her dancers, along with directorial collaborator Marcus Young, take the technique to a higher level. This is best exemplified by a duet for the choreographer and Lela Pierce, with the latter dancing as though possessed. Chatterjea herself performs with a purpose that cannot be distracted. Greg Schutte's score roils within a rhythmic mesh ranging from rock to the haunting vocal and musical contributions of Mankwe Ndosi, Chastity Brown, Pooja Goswami Pavan and Michelle Kinney.
"Neel" is about dichotomies — notably good and evil, as well as pleasure and pain — but it's not simplistic. The dancers perform in a satisfying unison of stamping feet and disciplined technique that is at once beautiful and difficult.
Guest artist Shá Cage acts as the work's wandering conscience, giving voice to text created by her and playwright Sharon Bridgforth, and pulling strands of blood-red fabric from her pregnant belly. When these strands emerge later as set pieces, they look like roses.
The 12 members of Ananya Dance Theatre, now celebrating the troupe's 10th year, are toiling even within their mastery of the movement because there's more at stake here than an evening of entertainment. They are dancing for their own lives and for the lives of women all over the world whose dancing — and dreams — we will never know.
Caroline Palmer writes about dance.