DanceAfrica/Chicago 1995 | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

DanceAfrica/Chicago 1995 

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As rousing as our homegrown African-American troupes often are, I've noticed a difference between them and African groups, who dance and play their music in a way that's at once smaller and more intense, as if the performers had imploded and concentrated and complicated their energy. When the youth division of the Ghana Dance Ensemble took the stage at the Art Institute for a DanceAfrica preview performance last Sunday, after it was announced they'd been traveling for three days to get here from Accra, I think everyone expected something less than top-of-the-tach intensity--and was astounded by their ferocity in a war dance, their vaudevillian high spirits in an all-male belly dance (men in skirts imitating women), their playfulness in a flirtation dance, their aggressive charm in an audience-participation dance. There were definitely cultural chasms: Who would have thought men twitching their hips could be so hilariously sexy? And American audiences don't tend to find it amusing when men hit women, even in "fun." But the Ghana troupe's high-octane theatricality and complex music crossed all boundaries. They're the first group from Africa to appear in Chicago's DanceAfrica, along with other first-timers celebrating the event's fifth anniversary: Chicago's Sundance Production, Philadelphia's Rennie Harris PureMovement (which combines African dance and hip-hop), and New York's Djoul'e African on a program called "And the Children Are Watching." Chuck Davis returns as griot. Regular performances Friday and Saturday at 8 and Sunday at 3; African marketplace Friday 6 to 11, Saturday noon to 11 (Sundance Production performs at 2), and Sunday noon to 6. At the Medinah Temple, 600 N. Wabash; $14-$18. Call 989-3310 for tickets and info.

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