DanceAfrica Chicago 2004 | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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DanceAfrica Chicago 2004

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In all the years I've been going to DanceAfrica Chicago--since 1991--I've never seen anything like Sidi Goma before. A group of musicians and dancers from the Indian state of Gujarat, it's made up of African-Indian descendants of slaves and traders who came to the far western corner of India eight centuries ago. Its dozen members are Sufis--Muslims who believe in direct access to God through ecstatic experience--and they do seem to access whatever part of the brain houses the pleasure principle. Playing instruments that range from coconut rattles to conch shells to the malunga (a bowed instrument similar to the Brazilian berimbau) as well as drums large and small, the performers create a raucous joyful noise that rises in volume and intensity, clearly organized but by mysterious laws. The comical dancing is characterized by bowlegged strutting, chickenlike head thrusting, and maniacal face making--a sort of counterpoint to and enhancement of the wild music. The aim, we were told at a lecture-demonstration earlier this week, is to produce joy. And the singing and dancing can go on for hours, even days, in a shrine to the Sufi saint Bava Gor near the village where Sidi Goma resides. That experience is impossible to reproduce onstage, of course, but I found the group's 20-minute closing song and dance a more than adequate facsimile. Also on the program--called "Aya!" which means "fern," a symbol of perseverance--are the National Song and Dance Company of Mozambique, Peru Negro (from Lima), and Milwaukee's Ko-Thi Dance Company (who appeared in the first DanceAfrica here 13 years ago). Through Sun 10/24: Fri-Sat 8 PM, Sun 3 PM, Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State, 312-344-7070 or 312-902-1500, $24-$36.

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