"Urban Bush Women" Review-great music and dance at The Dance Center of Columbia College, Chicago

Urban Bush Women, a not –for-profit dance ensemble now composed of 6 women and one man, was founded in 1984 by Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, 66, an American dancer, teacher and choreographer.  Zollar has numerous premiere works to her credit, as well as awards and educational fellowships . Urban Bush Women became the first major dance company consisting of all-female African-American dancers. Today, with the addition of Du’Bois A’Keen, whose fierce strength and profound athletic dance ability would be a grand addition to any group, the group remains profoundly rooted in the traditions of black Americans- social dance, modern dance and African dance.

Walking With 'Trane

Fresh from a three evening series at The Dance Center, Columbia College, 1306 S. Michigan, on February 18-20, 2016, this ensemble rocked the modern sold-out venue, performing 2 “collaborative performances between dancers, vocalists, artists, actors, composers and musicians, including vocalizations, a cappella singing, storytelling and social commentary”, set to the explosive sounds of John Coltrane. The first piece, “Side A”, called “Just a Closer Walk withTrane”, and the second, “Side B”, entitled “Freed(om)”, were both created by choreographers Jawole Willa Jo Zollar and Samantha Spies with dramaturg Talvin Wilks, in collaboration with the dancers, A’Keen, Amanda Castro, Courtney J. Cook, Tendayi Kuumba, Stephanie Mas, and Love Muwwakkii. Together they comprise an evening long work of excitement dubbed “Walking with Trane” (2015).

Urban Bush Women

 Special mention here must be made of costume designers Helen Lucille Collen and Troy Blackwell, for the infinitely clever, revelatory without revealing togs, and to the spell-creating lighting and projection design of Susan Hamburger, Russell Sandifer and Wendall Harrington. The incredibly apropos projected words and images on the huge back screen (train tracks for “Trane!?)  coupled with the beautifully lit stage itself- dimly black to reveal each poised dancer emerging, then exquisitely subdued to almost bathe each performer in light- were nothing short of breathtaking. Finally, Grammy Award-winning composer and pianist George Caldwell tickled those ivories with consummate zest and skill.

Walking With 'Trane (2015)

The program was based on the life and music of John Coltrane, “a composer at the forefront of jazz innovation in the racially-charged America of the 50’s and 60’s”. In 1957, fighting the dual demons of booze and heroin, Coltrane was thrown out of the famous Miles Davis band. When he came clean, he claimed his sobriety was based on a newly-formed union with God, hence the title of his 1964 album, “A Love Supreme”. To say that the dances celebrating this “artistic imprint” and “a conjuring of his essence” are vivid and vital are would be a massive understatement. The pieces are so intense, the work of each dancer- singular yet unified- is so well-developed, the viewer is left to feel both profoundly touched and as though he or she had been missing out on something forever!

Urban Bush Women, Walking with 'Trane

The program reverberates with the exhalations of the dancers, their lit-up transformed expressions, the transfigured sounds of electrified, wailing jazz;  the entirety of the experience is beautiful and unusual. It was an evening to remember.

Urban Bush Women in dance

For more information on other great performances at this venue, visit  www.colum.edu/dancecenterpresents


 Photo images courtesy of Julia Cervantes

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