Courtesy of Anna Sullivan
Hidden under a colored wig, white face makeup, bright blue eyelashes and pouty red lipstick is Anna Sullivan.
Dressed up like a doll, she expresses herself through robotic dance themes that explore the human condition. Performers surround her in matching costumes, ranging from tutus to fishnets. These women are like identical clones, or in this case, droids — Annadroids.
Anna and the Annadroids is the Columbus dance troupe that embodies futuristic themes to satirically expose modern pop culture, Sullivan said.
As artistic director, choreographer and dancer, Sullivan created this group, which performs at public and private events with an average of five
Annadroids, depending on the show. But now, the group is branching across the nation.
Sullivan moved to Santa Cruz, Calif., last month to pursue a solo career and tour, but said she is expanding the troupe by setting up “pods” of Annadroids around the country.
Annadroids Megan Lynch and Tina Tidwell will be starting pods in Columbus and Tampa, Fla., respectively, while Sullivan said she plans to create a group in the San Francisco area.
The Columbus community has helped promote the group beyond simply attending shows.
The Greater Columbus Arts Council funded their 2007 “Anna and the Annadroids: Clone Zone” show in the 10th annual New York International Fringe Festival (FringeNYC). The council also granted the performance the Artistic Excellence award in 2008, a prize of $10,000.
“Anna and the Annadroids’ performances are full of multiple types of art,” Sullivan said.
A typical performance includes dance, video, electronic music and unusual costume, she said.
“We really try to make bizarre costumes that are futuristic high-fashioned,” Sullivan said.
Evident from the painted faces and robotic movements of the Annadroids, Sullivan said dolls have always been an inspiration to her work.
“I grew up literally building Barbie colonies on my parents’ front porch,” she said.
From the time she was creating fantasy worlds with Barbie dolls, Sullivan said she was beginning to create the same type of world, but with dancers. This unique realm arose from her own interpretation of reality taken to the extreme.
Sullivan said Anna and the Annadroids’ performances are similar to fantasy and science fiction films because the characters can be scary, sexy or creepy.
“The Return to Oz,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “Gremlins” and other 1980s films have inspired her work.
“There are these kind of beautiful creatures, but they’re dark and twisted,” Sullivan said. “All of these elements bled into what the Annadroids are.”
The group’s theatrical performances have underlying story lines, which typically address robotic conformity and superficiality, she said.
“We call that psycho-cybernetic satire,” Sullivan said. “Our shows are very satirical, but they’re not always funny. A lot of times they’re actually dark but in a playful way.”
After graduating from Ohio University in 2003, Sullivan spent a year working with a dance company but said she couldn’t ignore the drive to develop her own art.
“Being a part of a group where I was just dancing, just wasn’t fulfilling for me,” she said. “I wanted to be making the work because I feel like I have a lot to say.”
In 2004, Sullivan created the dance group Anatomical Scenario, which later evolved into the group today.
The current name came from the title of Sullivan’s third evening-length show, “Anna and the Annadroids: Robots’ Dream Tour,” which debuted at the 10th annual FringeNYC in 2006.
After this performance, Columbus started recognizing the group by the Annadroid name, which seemed to stick, Sullivan said.
Jessica Berick, a 2007 Ohio State alumna and Annadroid, said she was introduced to the group through Lynch, who was a mutual friend to Sullivan.
After seeing them perform, Berick said her immediate reaction was “Oh my gosh I have to do this.”
With 15 years of dance training founded in ballet and tap, she said the first show she attended was extremely different from anything she had ever seen.
Berick described Anna and the Annadroids in three words: “electronic robot burlesque.”
She first performed with Anna and the Annadroids in 2009 during Trauma, a Halloween fetish party held annually in downtown Columbus.
“(An Annadroids show is) an awesome performance art piece … with the deeper meaning and all the satire, but the wow factor is always the most fun,” she said.
Bebe Miller, an arts and humanities professor at Ohio State and artistic director of Bebe Miller Company, said she had seen Anna and the Annadroids perform a few years ago.
“(The Annadroids’ performance) is a wonderful idiosyncratic aesthetic,” she said. “I’m all for contemporary dance in Columbus.”
Annadroid art is now taking a new form in California while still retaining original elements from previous dance performances.
Sullivan said she is currently working on her solo project, “Anna and the Annadroids: Memoirs of a Robot Girl,” which she will unveil at the 15th annual FringeNYC this August.
The show will draw from previous solo pieces to create a new story line, one that will have an accompanying graphic novel, Sullivan said.
After touring her solo show up and down the West Coast, she said she plans to move to Los Angeles and create another pod of Annadroids.