Urban Bush Women | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Urban Bush Women

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At the rehearsal I watched, artistic director Jawole Willa Jo Zollar said she was "cleaning up" the company's new work, Walking With Pearl, adjusting her dancers' timing and spacing. The process was fascinating, like the unraveling and reweaving of a piece of cloth. Though Zollar attended to such details as flexed or pointed feet, she seemed to care less about the look of the dancing than about how it felt: lifts and other interactive moments had to both suit the dancers and have the emotional and kinetic energy she wanted. And each of her seven performers has a unique physical and spiritual presence that adds to the work's texture, like different yarns in the pattern. In the sections I watched the dancers' focus was crucial, giving the piece a dramatic dimension lacking when performers fall into the all-too-common dancerly stare at nothing. Walking With Pearl brings this 20-year-old company's roots into focus: it's based on the diaries of dance pioneer Pearl Primus, an African-American choreographer and scholar originally from Trinidad who first visited Africa in 1948. Her poetic impressions of the continent, part of the American Dance Festival's archives, came to light just a few months ago; they form the text of Zollar's rich ensemble piece, in which the dancers also clap and sing. Also on the program are Zollar's 1986 Girlfriends and 1995 Batty Moves ("batty" is a Caribbean term for the booty). Dance Center of Columbia College, 1306 S. Michigan, 312-344-8300. Opens Thursday, April 29, 8 PM. Through May 1: Friday-Saturday, 8 PM. $20-$24. Note: There will be a discussion with the artists after the Thursday performance and a discussion with Dance Center chair Bonnie Brooks at 7 PM on Friday. A family-oriented matinee Saturday, May 1, begins at 2:15 PM with a movement workshop; the performance is at 3 PM. $10, $6 for children.

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

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