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Dancin' Feats
by Zachary Whittenburg
2009-03-11

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Marc Bamuthi Joseph pops, locks, glides, speaks, rhymes and sings across borders between realms of performance. Photo by Umi Vaughan

As often as it's attempted, the joining of dance and spoken text is a difficult symbiosis to achieve. Choreography and narrative typically fly along in parallel paths but at different altitudes, the audience left to figure out how they are meant to inform one another. In "the break/s: a mixtape for the stage" Marc Bamuthi Joseph pops, locks, glides, speaks, rhymes and sings an environment where borders between these realms of performance are no longer visible—he becomes a vessel through which his story pours forth in all channels. As he describes it: "By taking a myriad view of the self, I'm able to really access the emotional diversity that I think we all experience in our lives." Working behind 20 years of experience in dance—"tap, ballet, jazz, modern, West African, Afro-blah blah blah"—Joseph enlisted fellow Bay Area artist and longtime friend Stacey Printz in making sure his nonstop dancing through an evening-length solo would reinforce his story: Encountering hip-hop and himself through a journey around the world. He noted that, as dancers of a similar physicality and skill set, the transition between her creation of material and his embodiment of it was as natural an experience as a choreographer and dancer could hope to have.

"Then," he added, "we got together in the studio and my process was to present her with a whole lot of themes: I said we're going to these countries, and I'm working with these images. What I told her was that the piece has a sense of narcolepsy to me—a lot of the piece exists in a waking dream space and so by giving her concepts she was free to create what worked well within that conceptual framework. She composed and taught me about eight different sketches. I came to the point where my writing was developing and I was able to secure myself in the movement at a particular time. So the concepts came first, then came the movement, independently of that I was working on text, and when we came together it was clear that such-and-such a movement fit with such-and-such text. She developed this gesture phrase and I was like, 'Oh, that happens here when I'm talking about my grandmother,' or 'That happens here, when I'm in Paris talking about this South African woman,' and I think that I have an advantage in conveying the truth of the moment because my words are linear and literal. Even though it's in verse and there's metaphor imbedded within, I'm speaking the literal truth of the moment, and then I'm able to use my body as the figurative agent in the moment. And so there doesn't have to be a one-to-one relationship: I can use the choreographic sketches to revisit a theme, to make an allusion to a theme that we've experienced earlier on and use it as a counterpoint. I've studied enough choreography to where I understand choreographic devices, I get all these languages of theater, so that helps tremendously toward the end product." It certainly does.

Marc Bamuthi Joseph performs the break/s: a mixtape for the stage at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago, March 26-28 at 7:30 p.m.; tickets are $25. For more information visit www.mcachicago.org, and listen to Dancin' Feats' conversation with Joseph in its entirety at www.trailerpilot.com .

If you've never seen Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at the Auditorium—the New York company comes here at least every other year—this certainly isn't the visit to miss. All over the world the company is celebrating its 50th anniversary and as such is bringing dozens of classic and new works sure to bring the house down. Company dancer Hope Boykin collaborated this season with beloved a capella group Sweet Honey in the Rock, who will sing its original score for "Go in Grace" live on opening night. The evening also includes George Faison's "Suite Otis" and the company's signature work, "Revelations," although six unique programs through the weekend make it difficult to choose only one. A full rundown is available online at www.auditoriumtheatre.org .

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performs at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress, April 1-5; tickets are $30-82.

And, as if that isn't enough, the calendar this month also includes:

—REALITY, David Roussève's acclaimed multi-cultural, multimedia dance theater company, is bringing its new work "Saudade" to the Dance Center at Columbia College, 1306 S. Michigan, March 12-14 at 8 p.m; $24.

—Former Thodos Dance Chicago member Brock Clawson's "Give & Take" for Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago premieres along with "Brand New Day," created by the Giordano dancers to Ira Antelis' choral piece ( to be performed live by over 30 students from the Sacred Heart and other area schools ) . Jon Lehrer's "A Ritual Dynamic" and Christopher Huggins' "Pyrokenesis" are also on the bill. At the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph, March 13 & 14 at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $25; visit www.harristheaterchicago.org for more info.

—Laura Kariotis and Madeline J. Renwick's NoMi LaMad Dance presents VIP Only at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn, March 13 & 14 at 7:30 p.m. $25.

—Love Link's Hall? Of course you do. Show them how much by attending their annual benefit, THAW, March 19 at Sonotheque, 1444 W. Chicago. From 5:30 to 9:30 p.m., $30 will get you drinks, bites and an enormous assortment of some of our city's finest and most inventive performing artists. Honestly, admission to this event should cost three times what it does—don't miss it. See www.linkshall.org .

—Hubbard Street Dance Chicago's Artistic Director Jim Vincent made big news with the recent announcement that he'll be leaving the company to assume leadership at Nederlands Dans Theater in the Hague this fall. March 27-28 at 8 p.m., the company performs at the McAnich Arts Center, 425 Fawell, Glen Ellyn, and April 1-5 at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance with a spring repertory program that includes world premieres by Vincent, Jorma Elo and HSDC member Alejandro Cerrudo. Visit www.hubbardstreetdance.com for more info.

—Get global at the Old Town School of Folk Music's World Dance Night on March 27. Featuring Africaribe, Highland Dance Academy of Chicago, Kathy Cowan & Concert Dance Inc., Chicago BrickHEADZ, Nicole Gifford Dance & JG3, PACHACAMAC Folklore Ballet, Melissa Mallinson & Chris Walz, and Big City Swing, satisfaction is all but guaranteed. The event starts at 8 p.m., 4544 N. Lincoln; $14-18.

—The women call the shots for Luna Negra Dance Theater's next program: Artistic Director Eduardo Vilaro launched the Latina Choreographers Project in 2006 and this month's show proudly features each of the dances it's commissioned so far alongside a world premiere by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, "Nube Blanco ( White Cloud ) ." It's at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, March 28 at 8 p.m.; $25-55. More information on this terrific evening and the Latina Choreographers Project is at www.lunanegra.org .


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