"Rhythm World 26" Review - A celebration of dance at the Museum of Contemporary Art

On Thursday, July 21, 2016 the Chicago Human Rhythm Project’s (CHRP) 26th annual “Juba!” performances opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago. The first half of the program was devoted to four solo tap performances, by CHRP faculty members Ayodele Casel Nico Rubio, Maud Arnold and Cartier Williams.  CHRP Artistic Director and co-founder Lane Alexander acted as M.C. The first three danced to the music of Amr Marcin Fahmy, pianist, Junius Paul on bass and Isaiah Spencer, percussionist; Cartier Williams performed to recorded music. After the intermission, "M.A.D.D. Rhythms", a Chicago-based tap dancing collective and academy,  performed “Supreme Love”(Jumaane Taylor, 2015), and saxophonist Greg Ward joined the trio in it’s adaptation of parts of John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme”. “Supreme Love” was performed again with other pieces on Saturday night, July 23rd, while Friday night’s program featured Linda Sohl-Ellison and “Groundhog”.

Linda and Monti Ellison; photo courtesy of Jack Hartin

CHRP is known for presenting “American tap and contemporary percussive arts in innovative world-class performance”, and Thursday night was no exception.

Ayodele Casel, a native New Yorker who “continues striving to make Tap Dancing a relevant presence in the arts”, and who has been called by Gregory Hines “one of the top young tap dancers in the world today” opened the evening. With a casual-seeming beginning, rapping with the trio and the audience, then picking up speed, her feet were light as air, moving with the piano, traversing back and forth, mellow as could be.

Lane Alexander; photo courtesy of Noah Stern Weber

Nico Rubio of Chicago, who has officially begun his own Tap Company, “333”, with his instantly recognizable dark topknot, has a long and loose-jointed style. His solo was marked by long leg dragging moves, loose yet defined arms, controlled sliding and spirited be-bopping across the stage to the beat of the bass.

Maud Arnold, called one of “Tap’s Leading Ladies” by Dance Spirit Magazine, gave a high-spirited and high-energy performance, with modern-jazz elements. Sexy and yet aloof, she gave a particularly inward-seeming, thoughtful performance.

The incomparable Cartier Williams, co-founder and co-artistic director of The European Tap Dance Foundation, among his many other credits , demonstrated his enormously fluid and complete mastery of the craft. He danced in the dark, in a large circle of white, always elegant and in control, coming to a precise and stunning stop.He was a wonder to behold.

Cartier Williams; photo courtesy of Oliver Sarkis

The multi-talented Jumaane Taylor, “The Bearded Hoofer”, who is also a tap instrumentalist in the band “Sidewalk Chalk” and Ernest Dawkins Trio, choreographed “Supreme Love" to  celebrate John Coltrane’s immortal “A Love Supreme” with live jazz and tap dance. Starring Taylor and Tap Dance company M.A.D.D. Rhythm members Ian Berg, Bril Barrett, Tristan Bruns, Starinah Dixon, Donnetta Jackson, Megan Davis, Alexandrya Fryson and Andrew Carr, all of the artists on stage performed as a whole in this paean to African chants, rhythms and solo plus group percussive dance.

Bril Barrett; photo courtesy of Farrad Ala

For those in the audience, like this reviewer, who simply love this particularly American with African roots style of dance, the hour long piece offered a cornucopia of viewing- and listening pleasure. They opened like specters traversing the stage- heads down, arms hanging- then they broke into in-unison choreography.  This was the motif throughout the hour- the silence before the storm of pounding feat, the solos interspersed with the group. The scope and breadth of  individual virtuosity as well as company showmanship accompanied by the sax doing riffs on Coltrane is a sight to inspire anyone to tap it out. Throughout, Taylor holds the eye with his cat-like grace and power, but  special mention here must be made of Bril Barrett and his sister, “Star” Dixon, born to hoof- man, can they pound it out! Also, kudos to Bostonian Ian Berg, iconically tall with an incredible smoothness counterbalanced by his strength.

Star Dixon; photo by Peter Wochniak

For other great shows by the CHRP, go to the CHRP website


For more wonderful programs at the Museum of Contemporary Art, go to the MCAChicago website


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