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'Tushaanal: Fires of Dry Grass' is a powerful piece of dance

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This weekend, Ananya Dance Theatre presents the second installment of a four-part series investigating how women in global communities of color experience and resist violence. The production, "Tushaanal: Fires of Dry Grass," takes as its subject the gold trade of Africa and Asia, and is an explosive and penetrating work.

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The first segment of the series, "Kshoy!/Decay!," took on mud as its subject and premiered last year at the Southern Theater. Like the first work, "Tushaanal: Fires of Dry Grass" is performed by an all-female group of dancers who have collaborated with choreographer Ananya Chatterjea (who also dances), director/musician/performer Laurie Carlos, and music artists Mankwe Ndosi, Pooja Goswami, and Greg Schutte to create an emotional work that integrates traditional Indian movement with other forms of dance in combination with a multi-layered original soundscape. 

The dress rehearsal on Wednesday night revealed a profound work created from a cohesive ensemble. The group work by the dancers was impeccable, utilizing rhythmic stomping, precise hand gestures, as well as emotion. The dancers portrayed narrative storytelling, incorporating historical and current events as inspiration. 
Different scenes showed the dancers in various scenarios. In the beginning, they scraped against the floor, their bodies undulating as a dancer covered in glitter and sheer fabric lay asleep. Then the gold character awoke and began interacting with the others, almost seducing them at some points. The  dancers went through rage as they stomped their feet on the ground, fierceness as they barrel turned around the stage, and longing as they reached for the unattainable. The chorus became a clutching group of people desperately grasping at the ground, eventually reaching peacefulness and transcendence. 

One particularly noteworthy performance (aside from hypnotic work of Chatterjea herself) is that of Kenna Cottman, who is unbelievably athletic. Her character was so full of fire it seemed she would almost explode, and her movements incorporated African dance as well as modern and traditional Indian dance. 

The one element of the choreography that is perhaps the least accessible is the use of yoga. Yoga is a rather static form of movement, one that is typically practiced more than observed, but Chatterjea utilizes yoga techniques liberally throughout the piece, one scene in particular. Though these moments were not as exciting as the others, Chatterjea weaves the poses together in a way that transforms them into a new kind of choreography that is quite beautiful. 

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The soundscape, created by Mankwe Ndosi, Pooja Goswami, and Greg Schutte is perhaps the greatest achievement of all. Created in response to the choreography, the music, using voices and found sounds, is rich and carries the story forward, existing as its own piece, and supporting the movements. The percussive booms, harrowed voices, reverb-like sounds, with a little jazz thrown in, are really quite brilliant. 

As summer comes to an end and the fall performing arts season is upon us, there are a lot of great things going on in the Twin Cities this weekend, but "Tushaanal: Fires of Dry Grass" is a show you won't want to miss out on. 

"Tushaanal: Fires of Dry Grass" performs Thursday, September 8 at 7:30 p.m., Friday, September 9 at 8 p.m., Saturday, September 10 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sunday, September 11 at 7 p.m. at the Southern Theater. Tickets are $22 for the general public and $16 for students. Discounts are available for groups of 10 or more.

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