“I’m so honored and humbled to be a part of this company right now,” Mark Yonally, founder and artistic director of Chicago Tap Theatre, says with a tone of gentle awe. “I know I started it and I still make programming choices, but I’m also able to let go of some choices and let amazingly talented collaborators take a greater role in the organization.”
When Yonally founded the Chicago Tap Theatre twenty years ago, he sought to attract new audiences to the dance by weaving tap, live pop music, and fast-paced genre storylines into crowd-pleasing “tap operas.” Yonally says that CTT is upping its technical game as it enters its twentieth season, thanks in large part to a growing creative team that includes artistic associate Sterling Harris and rehearsal director Molly Smith. Harris has been leveling up the CTT company not only with rhythmically challenging choreography, but with time outside of rehearsal for artist development. “Time to sit down, check in, talk about musical ideas, learning standards, and letting these things happen naturally,” Harris says. His new piece in CTT’s performance at the Den Theatre February 18 and 19, “Chicago Tap Theatre at 20: Tempo, Rhythm and Time,” was born from these conversations.“Something we were geeking out about is polyrhythms,” Harris says. “This piece is in four, but you can feel it in six or in two. We have to have a higher level of awareness of what we’re doing and listening to what other groups are doing. It’s a bit of a challenge and it’s very fun.”
Another premiere on the program putting pressure—fun pressure—on the CTT dancers comes from Chicago tap-dancing great Tre Dumas. Says Yonally, “When I saw the finished piece, I texted Tre and was like, ‘Are you trying to kill my dancers?’ It’s six minutes of athletic, virtuosic go-g0-go, and it’s in five. A not-particularly-easy-to-hear five.”
The program also includes a commission by Heather Cornell, co-founder and artistic director of Manhattan Tap, and Smith’s “Protect Trans Kids.” CTT will also restage Yonally’s 2016 “Somebody to Love,” backed by members of the Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus performing the iconic Queen anthem. The entirely live score for the evening will be led by music director, composer and jazz bassist Kurt Schweitz.
“People seeing this show will see us doing the most rhythmically sophisticated, virtuosic work we’ve ever done,” Yonally says. “I strongly believe everyone needs tap dance in their life. I hope anyone wanting to experience joy will come out.”
“Chicago Tap Theatre at 20: Tempo, Rhythm and Time” at the Den Theatre, 1333 North Milwaukee, (773)655-1175. Saturday, February 17 at 7pm and Sunday, February 18 at 2pm, $25. Info and tickets at ChicagoTapTheatre.com.