Dancing in response to climate change


Tonight through Sunday, Ananya Dance Theatre presents the third and final concert in its three part attack on climate change, environmental justice and human rights. The piece is called “Ashesh Barsha” or “Unending Monsoon” and it takes a sobering look at the consequences of global warming, while offering no hope or answers.

I sat in on a preview performance last night, along with a group of students from Perpich High School. The piece began lyrically enough, as women in deep blue costumes (i.e. water) moved gracefully together, using stylized hand and foot movements typical of Ananya Chatterjee’s choreography.

As time progressed, however, the movement and the music sped up, becoming hard and percussive, like a thunderstorm dumping itself onto the road. The relentless, driving rhythms break up the harmony between dancers, creating a visually distressing scene as women contort and convulse, eyes wide open, arms and legs akimbo.

The scene transforms from pounding rain to intolerable heat, to images of a glacier building and receding. Meanwhile symbols and gestures underscore environmental questions. The dancers’ often grab their feet, which are traced with a black line, and stare at them. I didn’t catch the allusion at first, but once Chatterjee explained, it became painfully clear. “They’re considering their carbon footprint,” she said.

Of Chatterjee’s three performances on the environment spanning the last three years, Ashesh Barsha is the least theatrical in its storyline. “Dance is abstract,” Chatterjee said. “Be through metaphor we can open up a realm where we can ask ourselves important questions.” Questions about our role in the environment, and how to act on certain social justice issues.

Chatterjee herself has no answers to those questions. She said while in past performances she tried to end on a note of hope, she no longer feels that’s appropriate. She said the world’s natural resources are too far gone for hope to be realistic. Instead it’s time for action.

Here’s a video clip from the preview: fyi there’s no sound in the clip, but I think it still gives a good sense of the movement and style of the piece. (Thanks to videographer Tim Quinlan for the clip!)

Interested in learning more about the first two parts in the trilogy? Read about Pipaasha and Daak.

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