The saying "go big or go home" is an internal negotiation Lane Alexander rarely makes.
The co-founder and artistic director of the Chicago Human Rhythm Project ( CHRP ) always dreams big and, for the last 25 years, has been the brain and much of the brawn behind the internationally recognized tap-dance organization. CHRP is much more than a tap company, however; in addition to operating a resident tap ensemble called BAM!, Alexander now helps run the organization's brick-and-mortar, the American Rhythm Center at the Fine Arts Building downtown.
He puts on two major rhythmic dance festivals a year and travels here, there and everywhere to promote U.S. tap and engaging in conversations about rhythmic cultural dance forms. That last line on Alexander's extensive resume prompted Stomping Groundsa citywide festival bringing together Mexican, Spanish, Irish, American, African and Japanese cultural traditions rooted in percussive dance.
Now in its second year, the Stomping Grounds Festival is designed around Chicago's leading cultural dance organizations; however, its goal is much deeper. Each of the partnering organizations ( CHRP, Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago, Trinity Irish Dancers, Ensemble Espanol Spanish Dance Theatre and Mexican Folkloric Dance Company of Chicago ) hosts a free performance in its neighborhood, and invites two others to perform with them. The festival has expanded this year to include a sixth company; Tsukasa Taiko is a Japanese percussion ensemble performing as a special guest Wed., April 27, at Garfield Park Conservatory on the city's near west side.
In a phone interview with Windy City Times, Alexander explained that the festival's long-term vision is to continue to add and rotate groups from year to year, and Tsukasa Taiko is a teaser indicating that future years may not be restricted to narrow definitions of dance. "We plan to sustain the primary partners but also let it be a flexible ecosystem," he said. "There are so many wonderful groups in Chicago. To the viewer Taiko appears to be just percussion but it's highly choreographed and considered a classical dance form. We may incorporate straight out percussion in subsequent years, and bringing guest artists from outside Chicago is being discussed."
In addition to the dance performances, Stomping Grounds highlights culinary and visual artists to each performance to further promote the cultural traditions of each neighborhood's host company, and touts educational outreach programming for up to 14,000 kids and teens this year through master classes offered in surrounding schools.
Assured of the potential longevity of such an endeavor, each of the partner companies is committed to maintaining and building the festival for years to come. Although CHRP is at the helm, Alexander says that "everybody is doing everything possible according to their capacity" to market and fund the project. The potential is great for exposure and audience development by promoting their companies to groups of people who might not otherwise have an opportunity to see different cultural dances, and Alexander believes that company growth will follow with future expansions of Stomping Grounds.
"The companies discovered how much we love working together," said Alexander. It's a pleasure to dance together and see each others' work… it was amazing!" The spirit of collaboration continued throughout the year; a world premiere commissioned for the Chicago Dancing Festival last August featured flamenco, Irish step dance, and tap dance working harmoniously together onstage. The metaphor needn't be lost that producing rhythm with the body is a universal trait of many, if not most, cultures throughout the world, and Stomping Grounds' efforts to bring these similarities and differences to light reaches far beyond a series of dance concerts.
The Stomping Grounds Festival runs through May 21 at various locations throughout the city. All neighborhood performances are free. For times and venues, visit Chicagotap.org . The festival concludes with the Chicago Rhythm Fest, a public performance by all five company partners on June 4 as part of the "Made in Chicago" Dance Series at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, 50 E. Congress Pkwy. Tickets for this event start at $28, on sale at AuditoriumTheatre.org, 312-341-2300 and the Auditorium Theatre's Box Office.
Also of note: Celebrated ballet teacher and choreographer Emily Stein presents the fourth installment of her Secret Experiments in Ballet series. Inspired by the white ballets incorporating corps de ballets of tutu-clad spirits, Stein deconstructs and reconstructs historical ballets by giving classical vocabulary a post-modern choreographic treatment. Performances are Friday-Sunday, April 22-24, at Dovetail Studios, 2853 W. Montrose Ave. Tickets are $10-15 available at emilysteindance.com or 773-844-8988.