Ballet National du Senegal | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Ballet National du Senegal 

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The last time this company was here, in 1998, it performed Pangols, a compendium of Senegalese music and dance designed to show the spiritual nature of all beings and things. The new work on its current U.S. tour, Kuuyamba, details initiation into adulthood through a sojourn in a magical forest. The evening-length piece is divided into three traditional parts: the sama, in which the initiates dance to sacred songs and ask permission to undergo the ceremony; the djigui, in which the village chief gains the approval of the gods; and the silimbo, the ritual celebration itself, which includes eight different sections of music and dance. But if you ask me, all the company's shows are merely an excuse to display the riotous colors, impassioned percussion, lyrical instruments, and amazing dances of Senegal, which encompasses 15 different ethnic groups. There's a fairy-tale quality to all the narrative dances I've seen from Africa--"brooms" coming to life, stilt walkers towering over the stage, seemingly impossible acrobatic feats, elaborate costumes and scenery--that mesmerizes audience members of every age and ethnicity. And the 42-year-old, 40-member Ballet National du Senegal does all of it exceptionally well--so well, in fact, that audience members are drawn onstage at the end not only willingly but gleefully. Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State, 312-902-1500; 312-922-2110, ext. 4, for groups of ten or more. Saturday, November 9, 8 PM. $19-$35.

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