after witnessing the exceptional sampling of tap artists at The Jazz Showcase on Monday, i look forward to the extended works being presented by Chicago Human Rhythm Project [CHRP] in association with Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago[MCA].
the curtain is closed, the seats are full, MCA’S Edlis Neeson Theater is packed!
Juba! Bronzville and Broadway attempts to encapsulate the range of ‘perspectives’ this evening. it’s “a collection of ‘perspectives'” Lane Alexander informs the audience, as he shares the stage with Peter Taub, MCA’s director of performance programs; giving us background into how MCA & CHRP came together as well as other insights… ‘intense, dense and exciting” is Peter‘s description of what’s in store for us a viewers, some aficionados of tap. together they stand representing a valued collaboration. Lane commends Peter for providing a space where the tap community to gather…a platform for Chicago to see some of the best tap around!
stage is revealed. first a light on a tap soloist, a luminous voice of a woman is heard, the vocalist sings “My man….” it is live, the band behind her comes alive…NYC-based choreographer Michelle Dorrance’s Push Past Break lays bear the pulse of indigenous rhythms; layering blues, hip-hop, house & jazz performed by an ensemble of five with musical support from Greg Spero, Junius Paul & Makaya McCraven [trio]. from startling soloist’s Star Dixon‘s captivating footwork to thrilling polyrhythmic landscapes, they flow through duets, trios and a quintet that pushes the performers to dig deep into the emotional paradoxes of these steps; wherein the histories of the past collide with the future. i see images of field workers dissolve into tap krumping. a ‘chain-gang’ breaks forth into hollered transcendent moments sung by the dancers, led by Star; exposing rich rooted legacies, impassioned struggles and dare say joy that the ensemble embodies…explosive.
Next, Sarah Savelli enters…at once easy going and pedestrian. she puts her foot down and feels out the possibilities for ‘play”… what will it be this time? keep it simple? the trio, now joined by a saxophonist, brings forth a jazz standard. all seems like this will be a simple moment where tap meets jazz and they live harmoniously ever after? except this is Sarah Savelli! her low fast feet patterning is anything but simple… the musicians are offering their own push against her phrasing. who will outshine who? in the end they both come out shining.
Spoken word meets stomp. Lisa La Touche collaborates with Discopoet Khari B on this duet. “They called you crazy” Mr Khari B shouts…. Ms LaTouche takes on the frenzy, the uncharted terrain of madness…the highs & lows…but it’s a madness that sets you free. When he let’s go of a thought, the music catches it; propelling her into a labyrinth of sweeps and gestures. Lisa responds in ways that you can sense her deep listening…. not so much the language itself as his intonation… how he lays into the side of a word. it’s like she’s dotting his ‘i’s’ and crossing the ‘t’ but more than that…it’s synergy.
Bronzville? what about West Side?
“whatever he’s putting in the kool-aid, it’s working!” indeed Lane speaks highly of Bril Barrett when introducing this culmination to the first half. rightly so. Mr. Barrett is one of a kind in Chicago. This west-sider is the force behind M.A.D.D. Rhythms[Making a Difference Dancing Rhythms], his ensemble comprises not only members like Star, Ian Berg and Jumaane Taylor, but promising youth from his educational program – a fertile hub that has brought forth some of the best tap artists in Chicago…. an all star crew of 7 including Star, Ian, Jumaane and Donnetta Jackson leads off Heartbreaks, Freestyles, Rhythm Symphonies and an African Mailman. Polyrhythm is broken down to its sublime essence with this crew. the patterning precise & bold. adding on and layering both sound and style. A community of students follow, determined to win us over…then a quartet [of the first 7] invoke foot rhythms akin to global Africa against a recorded score…such bravado. A solo by Ian makes way for a octet with a bit of Latin flavor. Mr. Barrett solos. like a boxer called out onstage, he is formidable when it comes to his distinctive nuance of steps. “We keep passing it on so it keeps living” indeed, what he states he does…it’s walk the walk with this gentleman and his students, members of the ensemble prove worthy of this legacy. a legacy he speaks of when mentioning the late great Dr. Harold Cromer. it’s like he saying to these performers make him proud. They do!
Broadway! second half offers a Salute To Sammy Davis Jr. Tony award nominated Ted Louis Levy transforms this stage to Broadway concert with his performance as ‘Sammy”. this is not an impersonation but a beautiful embodiment of all that Sammy Davis Jr. stood for. with multimedia projections and a classy sextet of musicians including the earlier trio, Mr. Levy graces the stage with a beguiling presence. he croons, he taps, he belts out some of Mr. Davis’s signature songs, he almost plays an instrument [Mr. Levy shares a story of how the quintuple-threat Sammy did a set where he not only danced and sang but then got a hold of some of the instruments!] and as one might expect from all of that ‘quintupling’, Mr. Levy like i’m sure Mr. Davis would need a break! a break where Mr. Levy has to ‘only’ sing while Jessica Chapuis, Lisa, Star (i’m dubbing the “tap darling of Chicago”), Michelle Dorrance, Tre Dumas captivated us once again with scintillating tap solo after solo….the ‘break’ ending with power duo Jumaane and Jason Janas taking on a remix of “who can take a sunrise…”
by the end of this salute, even though this was only an excerpt, Mr Levy – a true showman himself- showed us quintessential Sammy!
Chicago Human Rhythm Project’s
Bronzville to Broadway: Juba! Masters of Tap & Percussive Dance
7:30pm, Wednesday July 31
At Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
soon reflections on:
Berkshires and Brazil, August 1st 7:30pm
also at MCA