The Community of Ananya Dance

Shaatranga
The 2018 premiere of Ananya Dance Theatre’s piece “Shaatranga: Women Weaving Worlds”. (Courtesy Randy Karels)

Ananya Dance Theatre is a place where women of color can come together and express themselves through Indian dance. This St. Paul dance theater aims to give women of color a voice through dance. 

Their way of dance is called “Yorchha,” a made-up word that consists of three movements. These movements are yoga; Chhau, which is Indian martial arts; and Odissi, which is classical Indian dance. However, Ananya Dance Theatre has also incorporated different styles of dance into Yorchha, which allows more creativity in performances.  

Ananya Dance Theatre has 15 dancers of different ethnicities and dance backgrounds. Every year they come up with a different message they would like to spread.  

This year’s theme is “Sutrajāl: Revelations of Gossamer,” which, according to the Ananya Dance Theatre website, is about a thread connection demonstrating how people can be delicate but strong, spun together as a spiderweb. Spiderwebs are carefully constructed, but once the threads are put together, they are strong.  

Each of the women come together to create stories and messages with Yorchha. Kealoha Ferreira is a dancer at Ananya Dance Theatre.  

Ferreira works to bring different dancers together and create unity.  

“It’s hard in a good way, because sometimes the work we do is about amplifying and sharing light on the stories of women from global communities of color,” Ferreira said. “These stories are often covered up, trying to be forgotten. In some ways there is a lot of digging and uncovering that can often bring up pain and trauma.” 

Because of this, Ananya Dance Theatre works to “get people to reflect” and “show the beauty of connections,” Ferreira said.  

Performing for an audience can impact dancers and audience members alike. The emotion Ferreira carried during her first performance was different than her practice experience. When she was onstage, she said she felt the transferring of all her emotions into the way she was dancing, describing it as “larger than life.”  

Ananya Dance Theatre practices biomythography, which is a creative method created by Audre Lord for her book “Zami: A New Spelling of My Name.” Biomythography is employed when choreography is partly researched, partly remembered and partly imagined. Every part of the dance is an important piece of choreography to share a touching message. When dancing, the movements are always exaggerated. The dancers are intentional in their movements. Some of the performances are inspired by African American activists like Lorde and Sonja Sanchez. 

The dancers must balance their dancing with their families and careers. A lot of them are parents, have jobs and are still able to tour weeks at a time and attend practices. They realize that they are “knowingly choosing a hard life,” Ferreira said.  

During the performances, the dancers show different perspectives through dance; all the perspectives show emotion through the facial expressions, arm movements, leg movements and the way they emphasize their gestures. Someone may be showing anger and sadness, while someone else is showing lust and desire. 

The dancers at Ananya Dance have shown how they can use the art of Yorchha to bring people together. They have inspired the hearts and minds of their audiences through their movement and will continue to do so throughout the years.  

“Ananya Dance Theatre is a place where we express ourselves through ways larger than words,” Ferreira said.