Ananya Chatterjea visits the School of Dance

15 November 2017 Published in News and Announcements

Thirty-five dancers are deep in a warrior lunge, their front knees bent at 90 degree angles and their back legs straight like arrows. Their torsos curve fluidly on top of these sturdy foundations and their arms trace arcs like windmills.

This moment took place October 27th when Dr. Ananya Chatterjea, an internationally acclaimed scholar and performer, taught a master class in Yorchha––a contemporary Indian dance technique––to students in the modern dance program. As they established their warrior poses, Dr. Chatterjea reminded them to find the precise angle of the knee and the “equity of the sit bones.” She added, “get on the beat while still finding the flow.”

In many ways this warrior pose, with its juxtaposition of stability and fluidity, is an apt metaphor for Dr. Chatterjea’s research. Through her pedagogy, publications, and performances, she emphasizes the importance of establishing support and noticing the interconnectedness of our actions. As the modern dance students found deeper, more grounded bases in the pose, they also accessed wider ranges of motion in their upper bodies.

In a similar fashion, Dr. Chatterjea’s published research shows the importance of rethinking environmental issues as social justice issues. In this way she shows connections between resources, rights, and access. As she said during a lecture that was part of the Global Change and Sustainability series, organized by the Office of Sustainability Center’s interdisciplinary Seminar Series, on October 24, “Environmental issues are women’s issues, and the top down policies don’t work to solve the inequities and injustices at all because we have to consider the ecology of humans inside of the environment. When we do this, we see relationships between race, gender, class, sexuality, and nationality within that formation.”

During the class at the School of Dance, she called attention to the ways her teaching is informed by her knowledge of Odissi, a classical dance form of India, as well as yoga poses (especially the bandhas) and Chhau, an east Indian martial art form. She encouraged students to notice how steps and positions may “look similar but be approached differently.” Differentiating between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation, Dr. Chatterjea added, “You are growing up in a world that has lots of different aesthetics. Appreciate all of them.” In her own teaching, this appreciation was made visible in her deep knowledge of each form and its particularities. At one moment she instructed a student in the proper hand position, pressing the fingers together to make a shape like a blade instead of an ornamental flower.

Throughout Dr. Chatterjea’s master class, music was created by School of Dance faculty member Michael Wall, and it enveloped the dancers in a rich blanket of sounds. Wall played the trumpet as his laptop, utilizing Ableton Live and Push controller, generated rhythms that sounded like tablas, berimbau, and even a song by Missy Elliott. For Wall the class was, “an exciting opportunity to collaborate with an amazing artist, teaching a very unique form of dance technique. I get to play for so many teachers often and Dr. Chatterjea’s class was so inspiring to me. It was a great experience for the students to learn how electronic music can blend so easily with another traditional form of dance different from the forms they are already practicing.“

The students in the class usually have School of Dance faculty member Molly Heller teaching them. As Heller observed Dr. Chatterjea’s teaching she noticed how her students, “accessed a precision in their limbs and greater range of rhythmic nuance through Dr. Chatterjea’s guidance. Her class was rigorous and physically demanding, yet she met each individual with care and demonstrated a true love for creating community.”  

That weekend, Ananya Dance Theatre, Dr. Chatterjea’s company, performed as part of UtahPresents season. This unique collaboration between UtahPresents and the Sustainability Office brought together students and faculty from a number of departments across campus, including Environmental And Sustainability Studies, City and Metropolitan Planning, the School of Dance, the Center for Math and Science Education, and the School of Social and Cultural Transformation. Liz Ivkovich, Communications and Relationship Manager for the Sustainability Office, organized this collaborative effort which included lectures, performances, and workshops. Ivkovich received her MFA from the modern dance program at the U in 2016.

“Dr. Chatterjea and Ananya Dance Theatre artists are activists, healers, and community organizers,” Ivkovich said. “Their work during this residency was an invitation for folks from disparate parts of campus to share space and move together. At the heart of Ananya Dance Theatre is their unique dance form Yorchha, and I’m delighted that Molly and Luc made it possible for students in the School of Dance to share this practice.”

By School of Dance Assistant Professor Kate Mattingly