Ananya Chatterjea

Ananya Chatterjea

Fellow: Awarded 2011
Field of Study: Choreography

Competition: US & Canada

University of Minnesota

Ananya Chatterjea is dancer, choreographer, dance scholar, and dance educator, who envisions her work in the field of dance as a “call to action” with a particular focus on women artists of color. She is the Artistic Director of Ananya Dance Theatre, a company of women artists of color committed to the intersection of artistic excellence and social justice. She is also Director of Dance and Professor in the Department of Theater Arts and Dance in the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.

Ananya was named "Best Choreographer" by City Pages in 2007 and is also the proud recipient of awards from the BIHA (Black Indian Hispanic Asian) Women In Action organization, the MN Women’s Political Caucus, and the 21 Leaders for the 21st CenturyAward from Women’s E-News, for her work weaving together artistic excellence, social justice, and community-building. She was honored by the Josie Johnson Social Justice and Human Rights Award at the University of Minnesota (2008). Recent engagements include a plenary performance at the National Women’s Studies Association Conference (2010), performances at the World Dance Event at New York’s Dance Theater Workshop (2010), the keynote address and performance at the 2009 International Conference of Pedagogy and Theater of the Oppressed; teaching and performance at Bates Dance Festival (2008), performances and panel presentations at Erasing Borders Festival (NY, 2008), teaching at the American Dance Festival (2008), performances, workshops, and master classes at the O’Shaughnessey’s Women of Substance Performance Series (2008).

Her most recently completed choreographic project is Kshoy! Decay!, which launches a quartet of works exploring how women in global communities of color experience and resist violence. Her book Butting out! Reading cultural politics in the work ofChandralekha and Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, was published by Wesleyan University Press in 2004. Other essays have been published in the anthologies Worlding Dance (2009),  part of Palgrave McMillan’s Studies in International Performance series, Critical Transnational Feminist Praxis (SUNY UP, 2010), and Celebrating India: Dance and Performance (Routledge, 2010).

Artist’s Statement

Life has its own way of teaching process, and projects have their way of deciding the time they will need to manifest themselves. When, in 2006, I was talking with my dancer-collaborators about embarking on making a piece about environmental justice, little did we realize that we had just landed on the tip of an iceberg. That one year of working in collaboration with environmental-justice advocates transformed our creative process and allowed us to realize the urgent need for sustained artistic inquiry into these deep issues inside human lives. So, what began as one piece in 2006 became a three-year trilogy about different facets of environmental justice, and what we learned in those three years, the questions we learned to ask, the hidden “footprints” and silenced human costs we learned to watch out for, have become part of our research and creative process forever.

These learnings carried us into the next project. I had already learned that in order for artistic work to create a groundswell of questions—which undergirds the social justice work in our creative process—we have to engage with the questions of injustice over a length of time, so that we are immersed in a sustained inquiry without looking to produce answers, so that we have the time to imagine the pain and loss as well as the resistance and alternative perspectives.

The focus on violence on women also reconnected me with some of my earliest work as a choreographer, but now I am able to connect specific issues of violence with larger systemic violences. So the anti-violence quartet which we launched in 2010 works through stories of lives of women through four naturally occurring elements that have been harnessed as capital in ways that have resulted in tremendous violence against women across the world, particularly in global communities of color: land, gold, oil, and water. It seems, as we are progressing in our research, both scholarly and creative, that we are ultimately etching the meta-story of how different forms of violence have dogged women’s lives through time. Yet so often we have failed to mark them as violence. And so often, these are stories hidden, stories that have slipped through the cracks of “important” stories and news items, stories that have to be reimagined from fact and emotional connections.

As we are working on understanding how gold has worked in our lives, I am realizing that this is a very different project than last year’s, when we worked on land. The element we focused on last year was mud, land that sticks to skin, and we traced stories of displacement, exile, dislocation, replacement, and home. This year we are figuring out how stories of loving gifts of gold rings sit side by side with dowry deaths in India, the murder of anti-mining activists in Papua New Guinea intersects with the gold rush that partially fueled the apartheid regime in South Africa, how the mercury pollution of drinking water from artisanal gold mining in Colombia contests the valuation of incredible craftsmanship with gold across so many cultures, and how the inherent invaluable properties of gold makes it indispensible for use in electronic equipment that so many of us use daily, and that ultimately makes us all complicit with the violence that recurs in sites apparently far away from us. The dancers are asking: we find gold beautiful, we desire gold jewelry, but how do we account for the blood on that gold? In asking these complex questions, I am working with amazing collaborators: the dancers of course, each of whom brings powerful perspectives and artistry into the room, and the brilliant Laurie Carlos, who keeps on pushing us towards the more risky yet necessary artistic choices. The brilliant score that Laurie has been producing with composer and instrumentalist Greg Schutte, vocalist and instrumentalist Mankwe Ndosi, and vocalist Pooja Goswami, has brought ADT’s work to another dimension. As a range of cultural influences cross in and out of each other in the score, often dynamically coming together, sometimes pulling away from each other, brings alive one of the concepts I have treasured most in working with ADT’s fierce women: that these women are from somewhere specific culturally and politically, but they are also from nowhere and everywhere, they are women of the world, different yet able to dance together. They are women who are able share space and share artistry, but they do not look or dance the same. These are the most likely truth-tellers of these stories we are trying to dance, the griots that will carry us towards making different histories, imagining different possibilities for women.

Profile photograph by V. Paul Virtucio.

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