DanceAfrica Chicago '99 | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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DanceAfrica Chicago '99

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Many American club dances have their source in centuries-old African rituals. Last year DanceAfrica showcased the relationship between African dance and hip-hop, represented by Rennie Harris PureMovement. This year, in the show's ninth annual incarnation, it's the connection between African dance and the lindy hop, as the "queen of swing"--79-year-old Norma Miller, one of the most famous of the Savoy Ballroom's lindy hoppers--appears in African Swing with Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago. Choreographed by Muntu artistic director Amaniyea Payne, the piece combines African and jazz instrumentation and illustrates the movement crossovers between the two forms. Watching a master class given by Payne and Miller, I was struck by how both swing and African dance set each individual free to express herself within the limits of a set rhythmic structure. As in African dance classes, the performers were asked to show their stuff in solo interpretations of the lindy hop phrase they'd just learned; those who received the most whooping and hollering were among the oldest in the crowd--a woman whose generous swaying gave a new lusciousness to the rhythms and a man whose sprightly carriage made the music seem even more buoyant. Also on the program are two traditional groups representing west and north Africa: Les Ballets Africains, the 40-member national dance company of Guinea, and the Nile Ethiopian Ensemble, a 13-member troupe based in Washington, D.C. Friday at 8, Saturday at 2 and 8, and Sunday at 2 at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress; $18-$25. Call 312-902-1500 for tickets, 312-344-7070 for tickets and information, and 312-344-7071 for group rates.

--Laura Molzahn

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