Ananya Dance Theatre finished the third and final piece of its environmental justice trilogy this past weekend, performing Ashesh Barsha (Unending Monsoon) at the Southern Theater. The production attempts to “explore unanswered questions of reparation, the mismanagement of hurricanes and tsunamis, and a world where human connectivity is lost and indigenous knowledges eroded.”
This aim is aided by a talented company of dancers performing choreography by Ananya founder Ananya Chatterjea, set to a minimalist Hindustani score by Aneesh Pradhan and Shuba Mudgal. The music is a mix of Raag and Taal, with found sounds thrown in running the gamut from electrical pulses to hammers on steel. The dancers work through a variety of Eastern and African dance styles, notably incorporating yogic moves into their routines.
While the stated goals of the piece are noble ones, the production notes were a bit like a laundry list of humanistic causes: environmental hazards, racial and sexual inequality, the loss of native cultures, unchecked materialism, etc. These things are all interrelated, but trying to cram them all into a 100-minute dance piece is perhaps a little too ambitious. For instance, while ostensibly Monsoon focuses mostly on environmental issues, the symbolism doesn’t always jibe with that intention. Ananya’s dancers are all women of color, and late in the performance they are surrounded by mannequins of male figures (identified as men only by their dress), whom they eventually overcome. Eventually the dancers are enveloped by a giant white sheet and their hands are bound with white fabric. Just how these issues of race and sexuality are related to environmental justice is a train of thought well worth following. In this case, though, simplistic imagery seems to have taken precedent over nuance.
The production company’s ideology is stated to be that of “feminist praxis.” This is the idea of a “synthesis between theory and practice” according to the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, who coined the term. Monsoon, however, manifests theory only indistinctly—and as far as practice goes, other than raising awareness in a very generalized way, the performance offers very little by way of encouraging the audience to get involved with the issue.
Jon Behm (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Minneapolis-based photographer and writer. While his specialty is music, Jon has a wide variety of interests that tend to take him all over the Twin Cities on a daily basis.
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