Bad Boys, Back Beats & Best Bets: Closing Reflections on 2013 Rhythm World Festival’s Final Performance

Chicago Human Rhythm Project’s (CHRP) Lane Alexander and Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago’s (MCA) Yolanda Cesta Cursach   onstage of 2013 Rhythm World Festival’s final performance on Saturday, August 3rd at Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, like proud parents, offered introductions to not only this evening’s artists, but to what’s to come… CHRP’s upcoming fall Global Rhythm 2013 presentation of Che Malambo gave Lane opportunity to express his excitement for this Argentine company’s ‘flavor’; inspiring him to further utilize flavors and food metaphors when discussing the “cornucopia of different dishes” we will savor tonight.

Lane Alexander
Lane Alexander

True to previous performances, there were distinctive flavors going on in this collective performance gumbo; however to ‘whet our appetite’ we were first delivered musical samplings from Greg Spero Trio [Greg SperoJunius Paul & Makaya McCraven].  they set the tone for what’s to come…inviting us to ease back into our seats and welcome the opportunity to attentively listen to their masterful  sonic artistry. i did just that.  Lane came back on, proud parent that he is, to announce who’s up next on the menu – “two former scholarship students [of CHRP], now world class professionals” – Nico Rubio and Jumaane Taylor; each offering a solo dish.  i’m inspired to keep on using food metaphors even though Lane begins to move into the tap language when further sharing insights on these two artists or the binary world of tap.  “it’s either toe-heel or right-left” he theorizes…but what they creatively do with those limited binaries inside their rhythm making….that’s a world without limits!

“hola” Nico greets us as he feels out the floor.  he dances about; drawing us into his subtleties, his turns…the way he toe- heels.  then comes the music of the trio…they play, he plays. both with such confidence & comfort; relaxing into the interplay between their sounds, his sounds…and the sounds being made by the audience. we clap and laugh and daresay are giddy at points when he adds a little extra ‘spice’ to a step.  a crowd pleaser!

Nico Rubio. photo by Cristiano Prim
Nico Rubio. photo by Cristiano Prim

distinguished, sporting a jacket & crisp white collared shirt, Jumaane at first seems a bit reserved….pensive perhaps.  he lays ‘low” &  hangs back close to the musicians…the trio begin jetting a rhythm that almost makes me jump out of my seat. he remains low… until he cannot anymore. alit by their music, his feet deliver a tight well-knitted battalion of percussive steps; echoing textures i’ve heard in music from East AND West Africa. this diasporic sound carries into his taps and becomes the jazz; the density of the trio’s ambient waves allows him to solo on top; adding a lick, other times an accent, smacks, stomps and shuffle….gliding he lifts up his pants and lays into the edge of a phrase; never missing a beat.

moving on to tell us about the next performance, Lane injects this quote: 1 % inspiration, 99% perspiration. Einstein may have said it. Thomas Edison noted for originating it when referencing  ‘genius’. Lane aligns it with  the rigor of tap….”putting in those hours on the wood”.  With over 20, 000 votes cast, he next introduces the choreography winner of CHRP’s Virtual Rhythms tap competition. performed by Hannah Rickman,  Seattle-based Shauna Mindt’s  choreography is very in sync with the recorded composition. Hannah shows off her ‘port a bras’ and polished patterns…finishing with a very on-point turn.

Northwest Tap Connection follows.  fresh urban rhythms danced by Alex Jackson & Shaina Mitchell lead to the youth ensemble overtaking the stage. i catch glimpses of James Brown & MJ signature moves as well as current popular steps inside their performance. they gleefully strike a pose. an audience member calls out “the party’s on!” and Ne-Yo’s Closer fills the whole theatre. back of the house, audience members roar and the young performers eat it up; ham it up as they lip-sync to Ne-Yo, ending with a final gesture: “get closer”.

a ‘break’ from the tap steps us into the hip-hop world, where Monty Rezell of Stick & Move Dance Crew exhibits his liquid grooves. Monty, an instructor with American Rhythm Center, was one of the teachers inside the festival workshop programming. as part of the “non-tap” experience [along with Tai-Chi & Isadora Duncan technique] he contributes valuable enrichment to the student’s ‘education’ –  and to this evening’s mix – in delivering stylistic shades of urban dance that continue to inform & intermingle with the tap world.

closing out the first half, the  dynamic duo of Jumaane &  Jason Janas skillfully take on the compositional complexities of Stravinsky’s Sacrifice with aplomb, humor and utter finesse.  their shared costume choice of white & black, stylized tap patterning & theatrics combined with the dramatic score evoke cinematic-like images oddly akin to James Bond movies in my mind…i’m half-expecting agent 007 to show up at any moment!

and……………………………………………………………………………………………………………..blackout!

during the intermission i took in and saw a bit of  ‘who’s who’ of tap in the audience including the esteemed tap pioneer Lady Di Walker and some of  the vibrant Brazilian Cia Trupe TOE  performers from Thursday. love how they’ve come to support, witness and affirm the other tap artists…

Bad Boys, Back Beats & Best Bets titled this evening’s performance. definitely got the “bad boy” vibe, felt the back beats ripple throughout the space….and it’s only half-way through! no wonder every time Lane comes on stage to announce the next performer(s), he is beaming….

but back to this concept of  bad boys? BOYS huh? well SHE may have something to say about that…

Starinah Dixon. Photo by Andrea Bauer
Starinah Dixon. Photo by Andrea Bauer

Starinah Dixon comes out in gold lame pants & tresses of multicolors to prove that the ‘boys’ are not the only one who are among the ‘best bets’ tonight!  the “tap darling of Chicago” meets Chaka Khan in this solo; utilizing Chaka’s arrangement of My Funny Valentine to soften the mood and our hearts with the softness of  her tap phrasing…resisting any potential sentimentality with a rapid-fire display of footwork & sounds defiant to the final sustained notes.

continuing on with this smorgasboard of tap offerings…..it seems that Lane proffers no more food analogies, so i will discontinue as well; rather he speaks of time when introducing the soloist Daniel Leveille.  Swiss time that is. how exacting the Swiss can be….Swiss watches known for their precision and detail.  “a reputation for being great time-keepers” Lane remarks.  Daniel does not disappoint in his precise, exacting footwork. in keeping time with feet that tip not tromp. with arms that slice through space like a Swiss army knife and swift turns, his style transmits the age-old elegance of some of the finest time mechanisms.

Jason Janas! as if he didn’t perform an exhausting duet at end of first half, Jason comes on stage looking fresh and ready.  no time like the present, he jumps in and starts ‘playing’ the ‘drums’ like he had a drum kit, but all he’s got is a foot. a foot holding down one pattern that is, while the other foot taps another.  rub the stomach while tapping the head?  that’s nothing to trying to simultaneous hold down a polyrhythm with two feet! arms existing on a whole other qualitative plane…flowing and undulating ala Swan Lake in one  moment…or relaxed and pedestrian at another moment, as the feet take on a feverish repetition.  the classical & pedestrian collide in ways that keep us guessing and truly see tap’s mercurial nature….urban street hoofer or Earl “Snakehips” Turner? Jason transforms from one ‘persona’ or ‘instrument’ into the other in an instant…tips and tickles the floor like piano keys then lays into a beat like the drum against the drummers fierce motiffs. his is a liberated journey…and we are along for the ride!

Jason Janas
Jason Janas
Tre Dumas
Tre Dumas

back to the concept of ‘time’…. Lane had earlier mentioned one notion of time when referring to Daniel’s Swiss bred exactitude.  when speaking on Tre Dumas, Lane talks about how this tap artist “bends the framework of time”.  it sounds mysterious and almost as supernatural as the symbolic spiderman shirt that Tre wears. “yeah i heard that Tre” Lady Di calls out to him at a particular moment.  he has stopped to listen for how he is going to relate to what is being musically played….the rhythmic possibilities he can achieve… how  he might lay into the edge of his tap shoe in order to achieve that right tone. you feel how his spidey senses are tingling. i start to listen in a whole new way, witnessing how Tre tunes in to what he hears and “bends the time” of the pattern with his accents, shifts of feet against the sounds of the trio and/or the floor.  in all this he remains cool in that way you see Chicago steppers float around as they step….

And to close?

perhaps we’ve seen all the best bets for the evening. so who could possibly close? Sam Weber, “grandmaster” tap artist with grace like Fred Astaire. that’s who…. i am reminded of the elders of Africa who dance inside a Bantaba. they possess an authentic quality that speaks volumes through a side step or a shift of an elbow. a legacy of the lived experience.  Mr. Weber is so light on his feet. there’s no rush in the way his shoes touch the floor.  no rush at all. you must savor the moment. i do just that. put my pen down and see and hear how he steps, patterns, builds patterns, communicates with the musicians, with the floor, with the audience. such exquisite adornments – the way he hits his foot against the surface. the embellishments that surprise us at times…yet still allowing us to be purely present with him and further listen, savor

to exhale.

Sam Weber
Sam Weber

Chicago Human Rhythm Project’s Bad Boys, Back Beats & Best Bets  was the final performance of  their Rhythm World Festival 2013 at Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago on Saturday, August 3rd at 7;30pm.

CHRP is part of the 2013 Chicago Dancing Festival‘s line-up…more on that and Chicago Dancing Festival soon!

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Author: Barak adé Soleil

creative practitioner, independent consultant and curator. making dance, performance art and theatre. working within community.

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