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Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago

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When I saw Muntu's Woloba in December 1994, it happened to be on the same weekend I caught the Ruth Page Nutcracker at Arie Crown. Both were full-length narrative ballets suitable for family viewing, but the values they revealed about their respective cultures couldn't have been more different. Perhaps because ballet is an inherently aristocratic form, The Nutcracker celebrates regal isolation and the selfish love of indolence and luxury. Woloba ("The Great Forest"), a dance-opera inspired by a Senegalese folktale and performed in the Mandingo language, promotes more democratic values--work, community, good parenting, nonmaterial wealth--through the story of a baby girl who's captured by a forest demon, released several years later by a good hunter, mistakenly married to a rich man, and finally wed to her true love. The story provides a context for Muntu's magnificent music--on drums, shakere, and kora--and joyous dancing, as the village celebrates the happy couple's marriage. There's a little something for everyone here: noise, color, conflict, comedy, song, dance, and music. It's just a hell of a lot of fun. Muntu is presenting Woloba again this weekend as its contribution to the Spring Festival of Dance, Friday and Saturday at 8 and Sunday at 3 at the Shubert Theatre, 22 W. Monroe; $10-$25. Call 902-1500 for tickets, 602-1135 for group rates and information. --Laura Molzahn

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Kwabena Shabu.

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