The Chicago Human Rhythm Project is a cultural magnet; the organization pulls percussive and folkloric dancers—along with a good number of drummers—from around the world to collaborate, teach and perform in big celebratory events, like the annual Global Rhythms Festival at the MCA. Lane Alexander, the visionary founder of CHRP, has dedicated a career to the idea that art can unify people across lines of difference, and that rhythmic dance, like traditional food and music, is something all cultures share. “Percussive and sacred dance goes back ten thousand years,” he says. “And four thousand to ten thousand years ago, people who stomped on the ground were shamans and leaders. We might see these people take that place as leaders in our community, toward peaceful reconciliation.”
With “Stomping Grounds,” CHRP takes a new approach to sharing that vision: a quintet of Chicago companies from different traditions—Muntu Dance Theatre, Trinity Irish Dance Company, Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater, Mexican Dance Ensemble and CHRP’s resident tap company BAM!—travel through the neighborhoods in a series of free performances, culminating in a grand finale to test the boards of the Auditorium Theatre stage as part of its 125th anniversary “Made in Chicago” series. Alexander saw the invitation to perform at the Auditorium as a platform to do something more expansive and broadly accessible. “When Brett Batterson [Executive director of the Auditorium] invited us to perform, it was a great opportunity to bring this idea.” Alexander said. “It fits into the city’s cultural plan to focus on the neighborhoods and not just downtown. It was a great way to build toward the May finale.”
Free, earth-shaking performances have smattered the city north, south and west over the last two weeks with companies hosting each other on their home turf. At the Auditorium Theatre, they’ll equally share the bill in a ticketed performance. Jorge Perez, artistic director of the flamenco-based Ensemble Español—which will present founder Dame Libby Komaiko’s 1976 “Zapateados” at the finale performance—raved about the project. “It’s reminiscent of Chicago Human Rhythm Project’s very first program twenty-five years ago, when Lane and I danced in that original show,” he said. “It’s a wonderful example of the beauty and unification of these enriching companies.”
And, of course, these companies are just a sliver of the rich cultural dance variety housed in Chicago. “Stomping Grounds” already has funding for 2016 and was recently announced as one of two Chicago recipients of a Dance/USA grant. “There are so many different companies I can imagine being a part of this,” Alexander said. “Najwa Dance Corps, Taiko Legacy, Natya Dance Theatre. There’s no shortage of great companies to keep this program rolling around the city.” (Sharon Hoyer)
At the Auditorium Theatre, 50 East Congress, (800)982-2787. Wednesday, May 13 at 7:30pm. $27-$67.