Chicago Rhythm Fest Review- Five Great Dance Companies Rock the Auditorium

“Chicago Rhythm Fest” rocked The Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, 50 E. Congress Parkway, Chicago, on Saturday night June 4, 2016, as part of it’s “Made in Chicago” dance series, for the final act in Chicago Human Rhythm Project’s two month long effort. The second annual citywide “Stomping Grounds” Festival brought six free performances of percussive dance to Chicago’s neighborhoods and much more. It was a “showcase of events, mini-concerts, lecture demonstrations, and master classes celebrating the rich history of the percussive arts”.

Chicago Human Rhythm Project's BAM

In partnership with the Chicago Cultural Center, the Garfield Park Conservatory, The DuSable Museum of African American History, Northeastern Illinois University, the National Museum of Mexican Art, and the Irish American Heritage Center, 5 great dance companies participated in “Stomping Grounds”, and also took the Auditorium by storm. The program and the concert were an exercise in diversity and inclusion, showcasing performances by Chicago Human Rhythm Project’s (CHRP) resident ensemble, “BAM!”, Ensemble Espanol Spanish Dance Theater, Mexican Folkloric Dance Company, Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago and Trinity Irish Dance Company, which included special guest Tsukasa Taiko, experts at Japanese drumming and performing arts.


In between acts, CHRP co-founder and Director Lane Alexander, who also choreographed a premiere for BAM, “In Walked Bud”, to the music of Thelonious Monk, for part 3 of their “Anthology of Rhythm” performances, led the audience in the type of easy calling-out and foot-stamping exercises that energized Chicago audiences throughout “Stomping Grounds”. Each of the other great companies presented 2 or 3 dances apiece, exemplifying the cultural heritage from which they sprang and whose rich traditions they carry on.


Alexander advised the audience that “Chicago has an embarrassment of riches in percussive dance”; the combined companies’ experience totaled over 200 years of great dancing!

Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago

The evening opened with the amazing and enthralling Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago performing “Amathini”, or “Can Dance”, originating in South Africa and choreographed by P. Amaniyea Payne. In this incredible dance, women clang tin cans under their knees and over their heads with amazing rapidity, the while calling out and moving with verve and joyous grace. The dance was presented as “a salute and tribute to the freedom fighters of today and yesterday”. Later in the program, the company presented “Sorsonet”, originating in the culture of the Boke region of Guinea, West Africa, choreographed by Moustapha Bangoura, a celebratory dance of luck and good fortune, with wonderful drum percussionists- they sat on the drums and played with their hands.


Second on the bill, Trinity Irish Dance Company performed “Johnny”, choreographed by Mark Howard, 1991, to original music by Mike Kirkpatrick, and vocals by Yvonne Bruner, a dance piece that historically helped to bring Irish dancing to prominence, leading to the show “Riverdance”.  As a surprise to all, including a delighted Lane Alexander, a tiny girl joined the company, skirling across the stage! Trinity later closed the evening with the incredibly clever “Curran Event”, choreographed with the dancers by Sean Curran in 2000, instantly updating Irish Dancing coupling ultra-modern sophistication and a very young edge.

Mexican Folkloric Dance Company of Chicago

Next came the exuberant Mexican Folkloric Dance Company in their vibrant native costumes performing “The Gulf”, from “Tablado Jaracho”, (“From the Land of Bamboo”). This joyous set in folk musical style included the Mexican folk song  “La Bamba” and intricate foot stomping. In the second half of the program, they performed “Cuadro Tapatio”, ("Square Dance by the people of Guadalajara”), representing the State of Jalisco’s famous dances, with the set including the world recognized “Hat Dance”.


CHRP’s “Anthology of Jazz” began with “Opus 1”, choreographed by Harold “Stumpy” Cromer in 1943, composed in 1942 by Sy Oliver, performed by The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. Part 2 was “A Night in Tunisia”, choreographed in 2015 by Martin Bronson, to music first composed in 1942 by Dizzy Gillespie and re-interpreted in 2007. With the above-mentioned part 3, “In Walked Bud”, by Lane Alexander,  2016,  set to “Underground”, composed  and recorded in 1947 by Thelonious Monk, and remastered in 1997, the series of performances took the audience on an exhilarating experience of generations of the quintessentially American art of tap dance.

Ensemble Espanyol Spanish Dance Theater

Finally, Ensemble Espanol Spanish Dance Theater performed three pieces before the intermission. “Duende Gitana” was an exciting and stunning flamenc-inspired solo dance accompanied featuring Irma Suarez Ruiz, choreographed by Ruiz in 2010, and included a Flamenco singer and percussionist. “Ritmos del Flamenco”, by Timo Lozano, 2002, and “Algazara”, choreographed by Jose Barrios in 2013 both thrillingly followed, closing out the first set before the intermission. All of pieces included percussionists and two featured flamenco singers.


The whole evening was a combined human extravaganza of exuberant music, extraordinary solo and group performance, and spectacular ethnic and contemporary costumes. As Lane Alexander told the audience, “We stomp the earth to proclaim our presence and ask the Superior Being for guidance”. He also said, “We all share a basic primal beat despite our different dialects”, and “Dance will bring joy to your entire life”. Last Saturday night, these words were made manifest.

Trinity Irish Dance Company


Beginning next month, from July 5-24th, Chicago Human Rhythm Project will present it’s 26th Annual Rhythm World tap and percussive Dance Festival, with a “Root and Branch” theme, in association with the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Don’t miss it!





For information on the Auditorium Theatre’s Upcoming 2016-2017 season, including the next “Made in Chicago” Dance Series.

Photos courtesy of Gorman Cook Photography




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