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Muntu Dance Theatre's "Spice It Up"

Nearly 40-year-old dance troupe combines traditional flavors



In the African language of Wolof, says Idy Ciss, a Senegal-born member of Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago, the word roff means "a lot of different spices put together." He adds that Muntu itself—which has been tearing up stages around the world since 1972, performing African, African-American, and West Indian dance—possesses "that same kind of flavor."

Roff is also the title of a new suite of west African dances choreographed by Ciss and Muntu artistic director Amaniyea Payne for the company's fall series, "Spice It Up: The Flash and Fire of Muntu." The work opens with a praise song, then moves into what Ciss calls the "most classical dance in West Africa," the precolonial Malian lamba, followed by the bougarabou of the Jola people of Senegal. It concludes with the high-flying, hip-twisting sabar. All three are traditionally social dances, which means everyone does them—men and women, young and old.

Rounding out the program: Reggie Wilson's Shouting Rings, which explores African-American traditions, and four pieces from the repertory, including Diedre Dawkins and Kwame Opare's Suite Nina, set to Nina Simone songs.

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