When the world is filled with violence — both physical and psychological — how do you take care of yourself?
That question is at the heart of a dance performance this weekend at The O'Shaughnessy in St. Paul. "Horidraa: Golden Healing," a new piece by Ananya Dance Theatre, celebrates the healing power of indigenous wisdom and the love of community.
As "Horidraa" opens, a visibly ill and psychologically distressed woman is poked and prodded, submitted to tests in a hyper-modern laboratory. The setting feels pulled from the dystopian sci-fi film "Metropolis." As doctors and technicians continue their examination, the patient is prescribed treatments of love and beauty. But the love and beauty she's given — cheap dates and shallow makeovers — only do more harm.
Alessandra Williams dances the role of the patient. Over the course of the evening, she said, her character moves from trauma to healing.
"We're able to witness a black body go through this whole journey that is created and supported by her own thoughts and her own actions, as well as a result of the cultures that intersect on stage," she said. "I think it's a way for us to think differently about how we heal ourselves from within."
As the patient's journey progresses, the dancers abandon jagged robotic motions in favor of more traditional moves from Indian, Hawaiian and African cultures. The result is a sweeping work that makes reference to everything from online dating to the modern health care industry.
Company founder Ananya Chatterjea said "Horidraa" is also in part a response to the killings and protests of the past summer.
"We lived through such an intense time," she said. "The escalating violence that we are living with almost being normalized — every day that's what we see, every day on television on radio, we hear it all the time. It is not kind."
For the members of the dance company, predominantly women of color, this work was personal. Many participated in protests against the police killing of Philando Castile. They researched traditional ways of healing, and juxtaposed those with the modern health care system. Chatterjea explained that the name of the show, "Horidraa," comes from the spice turmeric — a vital part of Ayurvedic medicine.
"We Bengalis, we eat turmeric in everything," she said. "We also have rituals where, if someone's getting married, we put turmeric all over them. Turmeric is auspicious because it is linked to internal healing. The erosion of these indigenous wisdoms means that we are losing the kinds of healing that were already always part of our life."
In times of stress, she said, it's important to remember our shared cultural histories and to draw strength from the past. She hopes audiences will come away from the evening energized.
"I want them to think about memory and imagination as resources we have, so we can create a space for ourselves where beauty and grace are possible," she said.
Ananya Dance Theatre performs "Horidraa: Golden Healing" this Friday and Saturday at The O'Shaughnessy in St. Paul.