(Note: I don’t know a flea hop from a graboff. I appreciated and enjoyed this show very much, but I’m not qualified to assess its finer points.)
The final show last night of triple bill Windy City Rhythms Goes Global at the MCA opened traditionally and served virtuosity neat before earning its title. As Chicago Human Rhythm Project‘s Lane Alexander stated repeatedly, tap dance is an American form; however, this CHRP program filleted it to display the veins of universality intrinsic to percussive dance.
Created upon Alexander’s receipt of the Chicago Dancemakers Forum grant in 2004, CHRP resident ensemble BAM! are clean, tight and radiate a love of tap.
BAM! danced three works with the Vijay Tellis-Nayak Trio, a lovely jazz combo, including one by Guillem Alonso that used sand on boards to wrap the traditional vocabulary in a different soundscape (this recalled, for me, one of eighth blackbird and Susan Marshall’s collaborations last May). Jason Samuels Smith popped up briefly for an amuse before BAM!, including Alexander, wrapped their portion.
When Smith returned for his solo turn, it was to no accompaniment or theatrical frame; easy in manner and insanely talented, he doesn’t need either. It also gave the show a kind of cadenza: Smith runs into and out of rhythmic structures with glee and garnishes long runs of impeccable technique with witty detours. The trio slid in to accompany him after a few minutes, its drummer (Steve Gillis, I think) and Smith especially enjoying their dialogue. I would’ve preferred to hear more of Smith on his own, though — he has incredible compositional skills, his dancing a rich experience both visually and aurally.
São Paulo “body band” Barbatuques radiate warmth, openness and sincerity. Theirs is the kind of performance that takes the concept of “world music” or “global dance” and not only washes it of cliché but sells it as a future we can choose. Organized into songs separated by blackouts, each of the maybe six or eight pieces they presented had a unique character, underlined by endearingly-basic projections of animated and computer-drawn backdrops. Effectively teased out was the inclusion of singing in the environment of hand claps, belly slaps, face-playing and any other imaginable way of making sound with the body — Barbatuques really makes you wait for it, but when they do finally sing, it’s in gorgeous tones and slanted harmonies that have the thickness of honey in your ears. A few members ran into the audience and got some kids to try their techniques and a man I took to be founder Fernando Barba at one point “plays” the audience, divvying up the house and creating some simple counterrhythms. It’s all done without language, the kind of audience participation that, like Ohad Naharin’s Zachacha, not only doesn’t require it but which also becomes kind of profound in its absence. It closed with a flirtation with baile funk I was hoping for and the return of Alexander and Smith to the stage for an encore that drove the palpable sense of community home.