“Currents” review- Israel’s Mayumana opens Chicago Human Rhythm Project’s “Stomping Grounds” Festival

Israel's Mayumana perform in "Currents"

Chicago’s preeminent organization for percussive dance education, outreach and performance, Chicago Human Rhythm Project (CHRP) kicked off its 30th anniversary and 5th annual Stomping Grounds Festival with the Chicago debut of Israel’s Mayumana in Currents on March 20, 2019 at Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E Randolph St, Chicago.

Stomping Grounds is a 2 month long citywide festival presented in numerous communities throughout Chicago as a showcase for the city’s most accomplished percussive dance companies. During the festival, multiple ensembles combine dance artists in unique presentations that perform and teach in community-based cultural centers and schools. 

Dancing under the spotlights

Lane Alexander, co-founder and director of CHRP, who announced at the opening of Currents that he will be transitioning into a more “supportive” role at CHRP over the next 2 years, dedicated the evening long work as well as the entire Stomping Grounds Festival to the recently deceased Dame Libby Komaiko of Chicago’s Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theatre.

In a telephone interview on the eve of Currents, the ever-ebullient Alexander described “the incredible richness of Chicago’s percussive dance communities, including Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theatre, whose mission is to promote, preserve and present the dance and musical traditions of Spain; Natya Dance Theatre, rooted in South Indian Dance; Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago, specializing in both traditional and contemporary African/African-American dance; Mexican Folk Dance Company of Chicago, lauded for its contributions to Mexican, Mexican-American and Latino Cultural Arts; Trinity Irish Dance Company, known for traditional as well as progressive Irish dance; and of course, Stone Soup Rhythms, CHRP’s own super percussive dance ensemble.”

Why is the festival called Stomping Grounds?  “We stomp the earth to proclaim that we are here and that we are here TOGETHER”.

Projections of the City of Jerusalem

Reached by Skype in Tel Aviv for a description of Currents, Mayumana co-creator and original cast member Boaz Berman said, “I was inspired to create this full-length personality piece by the historical Battle of Currents between Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla. Mayumana means skills in Hebrew. All of our company members, extremely talented perfromers from around the world, combine great ability to sing, dance, perform athletics, and play musical instruments. In fact, we’ve invented our own ingenious instruments for this show.”

When congratulated about the company’s phenomenal worldwide success- they are known as one of Israel’s leading cultural exports- Berman emphasized, “My hope for the show is that at the end, the audience is amazed and fulfilled; my goals for the company and myself are to keep creating and exploring, to keep bringing forth something new, to contribute to the evolution of dance in the world.”

Leaping under the influence of direct current

The aptly named Currents proved to be a powerful meld of specially made instruments including various versions of the cajón, a box-shaped drum one sits on that can be played with or without mallets; hands and glasses immersed in water; frying pans; wheelie bins with slapping lids; along with precisely calibrated technical skills, pantomime, clowning and physical humor, vocalized call and response, almost pyrotechnical lighting, psychedelic props, entrancing rhythmic music and layer upon layer of superbly crafted colorful projections and amazingly effective instantaneous video mapping.

The 90-minute show, sans intermission, is a joyous blend of individual solo performance within the context of synchronized group efforts. The overall sense is of an astonishing  demonstration of modern dance/gymnastic physicality and  naughty, knowing exuberant playfulness. From small highly emphasized hand and head gestures, to patterned group drumming, to pretend fights over props, the intensely choreographed show, ingeniously “manipulating the texture of sound” was a treat for patrons of all ages.

Running through May 31, 2019, CHRP’s Stomping Grounds Festival features both free and affordable performances throughout the city from six of Chicago’s most accomplished percussive dance companies at venues including Harris Theater for Music and Dance, Chicago Cultural Center, Beverly Arts Center, DuSable Museum of African American History and more.

An example of alternating current

THE STOMPING GROUNDS FESTIVAL CONTINUES:

Garfield Park Conservatory
Wednesday, April 3
Featuring CHRP’s Stone Soup Rhythms, Natya Dance Theatre, Mexican Folk Dance Company, and Ensemble Espanol Spanish Dance Theater.

Beverly Arts Center
Saturday, April 13

Featuring CHRP’s Stone Soup Rhythms, Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago, Trinity Irish Dance Company, and Ensemble Espanol Spanish Dance Theater.

National Museum of Mexican Art
Saturday, April 27

Featuring Mexican Folk Dance Company, Natya Dance Theatre, and CHRP’s Stone Soup Rhythms

DuSable Museum of African American History
Saturday, May 11

Featuring Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago, CHRP’s Stone Soup Rhythms, and Mexican Folk Dance Company.

Irish American Heritage Center
Saturday, May 18

Featuring Trinity Irish Dance Company and Trinity Irish Dance Ensemble, Natya Dance Theatre, CHRP’s Stone Soup Rhythms, and Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago.

Harris Theater (Grand Finale!)
Friday, May 31 
featuring all of the Stomping Grounds companies

Making music along with video mapping

For more information on Chicago Human Rhythm Project and the Stomping Grounds Festival, please visit www.chicagotap.org

All photos of Mayumana courtesy of Columbia Artists

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