“When you talk about African diaspora dance, when you talk about Black dance, it is dance,” says Regina Perry-Carr, artistic director of Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago. “You have West African and traditional African dance, you have Caribbean dance, you have hip hop, you have contemporary, you have tap. There are all kinds of components that go into the Black dance aesthetic.”
Muntu Dance’s “DanceAfrica: ROOTS” performance at the Harris Theater June 25 will showcase a number of exemplary companies that specialize in several of the dance forms Perry-Carr mentions. African contemporary companies Deeply Rooted Dance Theater and Red Clay Dance will perform on the bill along with tap collective M.A.D.D. Rhythms, Philadelphia-based street dance company Rennie Harris Puremovement, and youth ensemble Azania Drum. Several companies, including Muntu, will be presenting world premieres and revivals of pieces not seen onstage for years.
The one-night-only show is part of Muntu’s fiftieth anniversary season, which the company is commemorating with a revival of the DanceAfrica Chicago festival. Historically one month long, Muntu has expanded the festival to a full season, programming performances at the Harris and Arie Crown theaters, gala benefits at the Old Post Office bookending the season, a short film series at AMC River East, and a pre-performance marketplace at the Arie Crown Convention Center for material artists and designers to display and sell their work.
The expansive vision of the DanceAfrica revival is a reflection of Muntu’s foundational philosophy—the name means “the essence of humanity” in Bantu—and a reason for the company’s longevity. A Muntu performance—which should be noted is one of the most high-energy dance concerts imaginable—includes dancers and musicians of all ages. “In some dance forms, when you turn twenty-two you’re getting old. At Muntu, if you’re twenty-two you’re still a baby,” Perry-Carr laughs. “We have dancers in their seventies on stage.” She mentions Uche Omoniyi, a founding member of the company who still performs—though he has moved from the dance floor to the drums.
“That fire and energy that has sustained Muntu for fifty years,” Perry-Carr reflects, “As artistic director I’m honored to introduce that aesthetic to a new generation.”
DanceAfrica: ROOTS at the Harris Theater, 205 East Randolph. Saturday, June 25 at 7pm. $75 – $225. Tickets at Harristheaterchicago.org.