Compagnie Jant-bi | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Compagnie Jant-bi 

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The eight male dancers in this Senegalese company's evening-length piece, Fagaala, are to die for: strong, precise, expressive. But the show is kind of a mess. Inspired by Boubacar Boris Diop's novel about the 1994 civil war in Rwanda, Fagaala--Wolof for "genocide"--includes some powerful images but seems to rely on a more detailed knowledge of the book and its historical background than most audiences are likely to have. The company members can look exquisitely agonized, as when one lies facedown, arms crossed overhead and fingers writhing to create a forest of tortured acute angles. But such images tend to remain isolated, unconnected to any larger narrative--though it seems there is one. Maciej Fiszer's set includes floor-to-ceiling gossamer panels, one of them hung separately from the others and embraced for a period of time by one dancer; when it drops suddenly to the floor, the moment is dramatic but has no clear referent. Part of the problem too may be the mix of styles: Compagnie Jant-bi artistic director Germaine Acogny collaborated with Japanese choreographer Kota Yamazaki on the movement, which ranges from straightforward, wildly energetic and rhythmic West African dance to the angst-ridden slow-motion gestures of butoh. Yamazaki, who last weekend performed a mostly solo show of his own, might not have been a good influence: often the stage picture is chaotic, consisting of completely different solos by several widely separated dancers. Too long at almost 90 minutes, the piece also seems to end about a dozen times. Still, Faagala is worth seeing for the dancers' incredible kinetic and emotional investment and for the occasional moving if somewhat mysterious image. Dance Center of Columbia College, 1306 S. Michigan, 312-344-8300. Opens Thursday, April 22, 8 PM. Through April 24: Friday-Saturday, 8 PM. $20-$24. Note: There's a free discussion with the artists after the Thursday show, and they offer a master class Saturday, April 24, at 1:30 PM at the Dance Center; $15.

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