Reggie Wilson Fist & Heel Performance Group | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Reggie Wilson Fist & Heel Performance Group 

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Though Black Burlesque (Revisited) has an anthropological mission--to discover the continuity and divergences among African cultures and the African diaspora--it's far from academic. For one thing, the evening-length piece began with New York-based Reggie Wilson's personal search for roots, which first took him to the Mississippi Delta more than ten years ago. And the work's distinguishing feature is belief in the mystical power of the visceral, of physical sensation and action. During the decade Wilson worked with his collaborators, Noble Douglas of Trinidad and Thomeki Dube of Zimbabwe, he found visits to their homelands crucial: in a videotaped interview, he talks about how the air, the breathing, the sense of time, the way of giving directions all varied in each place. The piece's 12 performers--drawn from Wilson's Fist & Heel Performance Group, Douglas's eponymous company, and Dube's Black Umfolosi--make music and dance in a style that's expert but purposely unpolished. It's as if the modern and postmodern, Afro-Caribbean, and South African steps were all folkloric forms preserved in some elemental state; viewing the gumboot dance, originated by miners in South Africa, in this context allows us to see its connections to juba and hip-hop. Clearly Wilson wants to get the big picture--even the religious and spiritual ideas that underlie the physical practices. Yet he also realizes he can't. To quote from the show's Web site: "Black Burlesque (Revisited) visits the past in order to bring into the present...something that might never have existed." This imaginative collage informed by breath and rhythm is the result. Museum of Contemporary Art, theater, 220 E. Chicago, 312-397-4010. Through November 16: Friday-Saturday, 7:30 PM; Sunday, 3 PM. $22. Note: There will be a free postshow discussion Friday by Wilson, Douglas, and Dube; and a free roundtable with them on ritual practice Saturday at 3 PM.

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