Strap On the Tap Shoes for Windy City Dancing | WBEZ
Skip to main content

Eight Forty-Eight

Strap On the Tap Shoes for Windy City Dancing

Dance critic Lucia Mauro has the latest dance previews.

Events:
Chicago Human Rhythm Project: Windy City Rhythms Goes Global
May 29-31
Museum of Contemporary Art Theatre

Chicago Tap Theatre-Little Dead Riding Hood
May 29-June 14
Athenaeum Theatre

Blockbuster percussive shows, like Stomp and Tap Dogs, rely on ordinary objects – brooms and trash can covers – to create new sounds. But Barbatuques is a true body band. The group of dancers and musicians from Sao Paolo, Brazil will make their Chicago debut May 29 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Theater. They're part of the Chicago Human Rhythm Project's spring concert, titled Windy City Rhythms Goes Global.

Barbatuques began as a research project by musician Fernando Barba. He wanted to see how many ways the body could make music. This led to the founding of his group in 1996. For its Chicago performance, Barbatuques will find the most unexpected ways to make the body sing.

Afro-Brazilian chants intersect with Portuguese rap. Tongue clicks mirror the sound of maracas and rushing waterfalls. When the performers tap on their puffed facial cheeks with their hands, they create complex harmonies – from a wooden flute to bird calls. They've even created six different ways to clap. The sounds include rapid-fire pops and quiet trickles. Their body percussion is so intricate that varying degrees of tonalities emerge. For example, pounding on the chest cavity with a flat palm results in a deep hollow sound. Drumming on the abdomen counters with high-pitch notes.

Barbatuques will be joined by equally innovative American rhythmic-dance artists. Emmy Award-winning tap artist Jason Samuels Smith will perform a solo with his signature charisma and relaxed virtuosity. Samuels Smith made his Broadway debut at the age of 15 in Bring in Da Noise, Bring in Da Funk. He has worked closely with Savion Glover and helped create the tap program at Debbie Allen's Dance Academy in Culver City, California.

Lane Alexander's five-year-old tap ensemble, BAM!, rounds out the program with silky-smooth moves to jazz and classical scores. The dancers are so polished, they easily move from elegant Golden Age of Tap stylings to quirky post-modern experiments.

The Chicago Human Rhythm Project, headed by Lane Alexander, presents Windy City Rhythms Goes Global May 29 through 31 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Theatre, 220 E. Chicago Ave.

The music-theater team of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice may have helped spawn the rock opera with such hits as Evita and Jesus Christ Superstar. But Chicago's own Mark Yonally seems to have singlehandedly created what he calls the tap opera. Subjects have ranged from David Bowie to comic-book superheroes. His company, Chicago Tap Theatre, will premiere its fourth full-length summer story show May 29 through June 14 at the Athenaeum Theatre. Its title, Little Dead Riding Hood, could have been slowly extracted from Wes Craven's twisted brain. But Yonally insists the show, which is suitable for all ages, finds humor in the darker side of fairytales.

That said, Little Dead Riding Hood has no ties to post-modern reinventions of these stories, like Into the Woods or Shrek. Nor is it a diatribe against Disney. Yonally and his versatile dancers and designers are really exploring the idea of changing one's prescribed destiny. A villainous Mother Goose, who serves as the Narrator, tries to control the characters' lives. To throw off the domineering hen, a mischievous Little Red Riding Hood tears out pages from Mother Goose's storybook. That allows, for instance, Cinderella's Step Sisters to land in Goldilocks' universe. These familiar figures are basically transformed by their own free will over the course of this two-act story, which is told through tap dance, pantomime and original music by Andrew Edwards.

At a recent rehearsal, the Wolf and Little Red Riding – following a scuffle – fell in love. And one of the Step Sisters clumsily hit on the Woodsman, who practically had to fend her off with his ax. The Woodsman, as it turns out, makes one of the most flamboyant transformations – from a macho protector to a gay hairdresser who dreams of opening his own salon. In his toolbelt, he carries a hairdryer and scissors and even gives the Step Sisters a makeover.

Costume designer Anna Glowacki cleverly deconstructs traditional fairytale costumes by piecing together vintage fabrics. The Snow Queen wears a corset resembling blocks of ice and has strips of lace snowflakes hanging from her gown. Mother Goose, a disheveled Victorian prude, sports bird nests in her hair. One of the Step Sisters has wide green petals for hips.

It's a small-scale tap-theater production with many Freudian twists.

Chicago Tap Theatre's Little Dead Riding Hood runs May 29 through June 14 at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport Ave.

Together, the Chicago Human Rhythm Project and Chicago Tap Theatre are taking the concept of rhythmic dance to unexpected heights.

Get the WBEZ App

Download the best live and on-demand public radio experience. Find out more.

CLOSE X