ANANYA DANCE THEATRE: People Powered Dances of Transformation

ANANYA DANCE THEATRE: How Do We Show Up For Each Other?

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Virginia Commonwealth University School Grace Street Theater, 934 West Grace Street, RVA 23220

Performances: October 26 & 27, 2018

Ticket Prices: $20 Adults; $15 Students

Info: (804) 828-2020 or http://arts.vcu.edu/dance/

 

Ananya Dance Theatre, under the artistic direction of Ananya Chatterjea, presents dance within a social, feminist/womanist, human context. Entertaining is only a part of what they do. There were no spectators in the Grace Street Theater on Saturday night when I attended Shaatranga: Women Weaving Worlds. Oh, there were plenty of people in the audience, but Chatterjea and her troupe of seven powerful women did not allow us to sit and be entertained.

Several times the house lights came up and those who may have been under the impression they had come to see a show were asked to take a stand, to raise a fist, to clap and stomp our feet. We participated in an invocation of breath and watching a dance performance may never be the same. Stand up (one woman did). Raise your first (most did). Clap your hands. Stomp your feet. Chant: Public fury; public joy; public love; public dance!

Shaatranga, which means “seven colors” in Bānglā, is the culmination of a quintet of works exploring work women do. The dance was created in four movements and runs 95 minutes with no intermission and is based on research, history, and cultural connections. The two main themes are ancient Indian Ocean trade routes that connected Asia, Africa, and South America, and the shared practices of indigo-dyeing. Visually, an abstract navigation star represents the compass that “enables us to remain on the path of a complexly woven notion of justice.” At the beginning of the work, the navigation star is broken but by the end it has been healed. The sections of the dance bear names like “Voyage,” “Shipwreck,” and “Desolation.” There are “Rituals of Mourning” and “Dancing to Heal.”

Chatterjea’s movement vocabulary uses classical Indian dance as a foundation and there are layers contemporary dance woven throughout. There is yoga, martial arts, rage and joy. The movement that stood out most to me is a spiral that starts from deep inside the core then winds its way up and out. There is also spoken word, ritual, and sound: grunts, screams, the sound of helicopter rotors as the women’s hands reach up, the sound of feet slapping and stomping, the sound of drums, and even, I think, the faint sound of birds and monkeys chattering.

At the beginning, there was a curtain hung asymmetrically so that it reminded me simultaneously of a simple curtain or covering, a woman’s veil, and a ship’s sail. Later, the black curtains opened just a bit to reveal a portion of white wall bathed in red light with Chatterjea splattered on the wall, feet up, arms splayed out on the floor. There is beauty, hunger, pain, distortion, and there is power.

Projections and simple design elements created an all-encompassing world that kept me on the edge of my seat for most of the evening. There were rolling waves and animated billows of indigo that morphed into hands, and there were ceiling-to-floor ribbons of indigo, interwoven like the lives of the women represented, remembered, and honored. Throughout, the women wore loose-fitting dark blue pants (a knee-length Indian salwar, similar to Victorian knickers or bloomers) but changed their tops for each movement (peplum tunics, athletic leotards, high necked tops) in shades of blue, sometimes with splashed of color, but always indigo. Musical composition, vocals, sound design, poetry, costume, lighting, scenic design, animations and projections all united in a seamless manifestation of Chatterjea’s concept.

Often, a program is unnecessary, except to identify the names of the dances. In this case, the program was an essential guide to the work, filled with background, history, poetry, definitions, and questions: How do we show up for each other? This company, this work must be seen. Writing about it does not do it justice.

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits:

Company photos and photos from the company website.

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THE WOLVES: Game On

THE WOLVES: Girls with Goals

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

By: Cadence Theatre Company in partnership with TheatreVCU

At: Raymond Hodges Theatre at the W.E. Singleton Performing Arts Center, 922 Park Avenue, RVA 23220

Performances: September 27 – October 7, 2018

Ticket Prices: $5.00 – $19.99

Info: (804) 828-6026 or VCUtheatre.showclix.com

An unexpected collaboration of Cadence Theatre Company and TheatreVCU + an unusual play about teen-aged girls by Sarah DeLappe = an intriguing production of sometimes intense situations that portray the multiple dimensions of young women on their way to adulthood.

Running about 90 minutes without intermission, each scene in The Wolves shows the nine-member female high-school indoor soccer team preparing for their weekly game. The Wolves, by the way, is the name of the team. Initially they talk over one another, with multiple conversations occurring at once.  School work, boyfriends, the weekend, and menstruation are popular topics. US immigration policies are discussed in depth (the play premiered in 2016), as well as a lengthy dialogue on Cambodia and genocide. In addition to the usual teen-aged squabbles, there are accidents and injuries, hints of eating disorder and a possible same-sex relationship, and genuine, life-altering tragedy. We get to meet the girls as they warm up and prepare to meet their weekly opponents.

The author, interestingly, has chosen to identify the girls by their jersey numbers, rather than by name, although they do address one another by name. #25, Havy Nguyen, is the team captain but she might as well be the coach. #25 leads the warm-ups and they require genuine dedication to the running, jumping jacks, high knees, butt kicks, ball passing, and more. We learn, in bits and pieces, that the unseen coach apparently has a drinking problem, and at any rate, he is not nearly as popular as a previous coach who left to care for his ailing mother. I immediately wondered why Nguyen was wearing an ugly wig but the answer to that is revealed in the closing scenes.

#7, Jocelyn Honoré, is the team’s leading striker, but she has anger problems and a tendency to make poor decisions in life. #13, Anna Katogiritis, is the team clown, but has a bit of a mean streak and her humor always turns sarcastic.  #46, Emma Olson, is the new girl; home-schooled and well-traveled, she lives in a yurt with her mother, and struggles to fit in. The team goalkeeper, #00, Amari Cummings, is something of a prodigy: she plays the saxophone, chairs several academic teams, and has an astronomically high GPA. She also refuses to talk and has to throw up before every game.

Other team members include Katy Feldhahn (#14), Lydia Hynes (#8), Katelyn Shinn (#11), and Celeste Taica (#2). There are friendships and cliques and gossiping, but as the season passes, the girls become closer, and the audience begins to learn their personalities and quirks. Much like a Peanuts comic strip, the adults are largely unseen and unheard, with the exception of the Soccer Mom (Karen Kopryanski) who appears in the final scene, heart-rending scene. The girls are all TheatreVCU students, and Kopryanski is an assistant professor.

The Wolves is directed by Sharon Ott, Chair of the Department of Theatre at VCU with great energy and stimulating pacing that varies from frenzied action to well-placed silence. All the action takes place in an AstroTurf covered indoor arena; the floor curves upward into the ceiling. There are suggestions of actions taking place offstage, and one kick sends a soccer ball flying into the audience where it was bandied about for a bit before being returned to the playing field (as we were directed to do at the start of the show). Credit Dasia Gregg with the scenic design, Theo Dubois with the costumes, Christian DeAngelis with the lighting and Nicholas Seaver with the sound. In topic and tone, The Wolves strives to – and largely succeeds – in standing out from the pack.

NOTE1: I sat on the right side in the front row, and had no problem hearing everything, but a friend who sat in a middle row in the middle section said the sound quality was problematic.

NOTE2: A smile to #4 and #9; the stagehands who came out in uniform to set a scene!

 

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: Aaron Sutten

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