PRE-View: Chicago Human Rhythm Project’s JUBA! – Masters of Tap and Percussive Dance
JUBA! Masters of Tap and Percussive Dance is not one, but two dance concerts. Although both are presentations of some of the most gifted percussive dance artists you can see anywhere, and both will be an intoxicating mixture of sophisticated choreography and inspired improvisation, they’re actually two completely different programs — on Friday, July 20th at 7:30pm, there’s one amazing concert at The Studebaker Theater, and the very next night, Saturday July 21st at 7:30pm, there’s a different amazing concert on the same stage. So, on the one hand, it won’t be easy to choose if you can only see one. On the other hand, if you do have to choose, you really can’t go wrong.
We have some more detail about exactly who shows up on that stage each night, and what they’re bringing, but first, we talked to Dani Borak, Chicago Human Rhythm Project’s Artist in Residence. We wanted to get a little more into what all of this is about anyway, and we couldn’t have found a better person to ask. Dani is showing up both nights, and with a different set of choreographed and improvised must-see performances each night, but that’s only part of what he told us about. He also gave us some real insight into the process of developing these works, and about the arts of tap and percussive dance — why they can be so enthralling, and what is happening with them now. Here’s what he told us:
The universe of music, and the universe of dance are both infinite, and there’s a huge history available to study — so you can imagine that the artistic possibilities of the art form Tap Dance are definitely never-ending as well
Johnny Nevin: JUBA! brings together so many different kinds of creativity that we were hoping you could fill us in a little more on what the audiences at The Studebaker Theater are in store for. The Friday night and Saturday night shows are actually completely different programs, so we know there’s a lot to cover, but let’s start with this — what is it about the world of Tap and Percussive Dance that makes a show like JUBA! so rich?
Dani Borak: To me, “Tap Dance” is an art form that is part of two artistic universes: music and dance. As tap dancers, we have the option to say something that the audience hears, but also to say something that they see — we can express ourselves both acoustically and visually, using musicians, recorded music or just using our voice acapella. We can choreograph, compose and freeze our creativity in fixed rhythms and movements, setting them as definite pieces, or we can react in the moment and express our feelings, thoughts, emotions in the magic of the “NOW“ through improvisation.
Like every art form, Tap Dance (especially as an American art form) has a huge history. There were so many brilliant masters, pioneers and artists who made the art form what it is today, and they’ve all left an incredible legacy —a legacy that right up to today we study, honor and perform.
The universe of music, and the universe of dance are both infinite, and there’s a huge history available to study — so you can imagine that the artistic possibilities of the art form Tap Dance are definitely never-ending as well. The two upcoming JUBA! concerts will present the art form in so many beautiful, and especially different ways that — well, just don’t miss it!
… improvisation and the act of choreographing both come from the same source of creativity, the creativity inside a human being …
Johnny: Tap and Percussive Dance are unique among concert dance forms, because of how much the artists improvise their creations, yet there is also extensive choreography in a concert like JUBA! As both a performer and choreographer, can you give us an inside look at how those two ideas balance each other in concert? How do you balance these in your own choreography, like in the work that Stone Soup Rhythms is premiering at the performances?
Dani: For me, improvisation and the act of choreographing both come from the same source of creativity, the creativity inside a human being. For example, when I’m at the studio and I’m about to choreograph something to a certain piece of music, the first thing I do is improvise through the whole song a few times. While doing that, some first ideas start to come out and I try to remember the ones, I liked. Then, I just start somewhere to fix one bar, dance it and improvise the next one — if I like it, I freeze and fix that one as well and continue this way, rhythm after rhythm, step by step.
I think my main point is this: NO MATTER WHAT KIND OF ARTISTIC IDEA COMES TO YOUR MIND – DON’T BE AFRAID TO TRY IT!
The most important thing for me is that I don’t do any of this with rational thinking, or with too much brain activity – I need to get in a certain zone, in which my intuition and feeling take over, 100 percent. When I’m on stage and I have to improvise with the band, I need to be in that same zone – not thinking, but BEING and letting out what is there, in that moment.
As far as the choreography goes, all of the pieces that I’m going to present at JUBA! have one thing in common: the first thing that starts the whole process going is that I have to like that certain piece of music that I’ve found. I have to like it so much, that it I just HAVE TO use it for something. If that’s the case, then the birth-process can happen in many different ways. For some pieces, a rhythmical and musical idea comes first, for other pieces it’s a visual image that came to my mind, or maybe it was a certain feeling, emotion or atmosphere that I felt.
The pieces on Friday are going to be performed to recorded music: the material is very experimental, where I’m trying to use elements of different dance styles. It is still a work in progress — a piece that I will be continuing to work on.
On Saturday, there will be both: pieces to recorded music, which will be completely different than the Friday ones, and then also two pieces that we’re going perform with the band. In the second work, I’m going to improvise a solo first with the band, and then bring the dancers in and then start the choreography.
We’ll see how all of it goes, because ultimately, each and every piece, performance, or choreography, or whatever artistic work, is actually nothing else but something that you try for — trying to find what is inside and bring it out.
Chicago Human Rhythm Project will present JUBA! Masters of Tap and Percussive Dance at Chicago’s Studebaker Theater on Friday, July 20th at 7:30pm and Saturday, July21st at 7:30pm. The Studebaker Theater is in The Fine Arts Building at 410 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60605, and tickets are available online from Eventbrite for Friday’s performance, and also online from Eventbrite for Saturday’s performance.
Friday, July 20th at 7:30pm: Superstars Caleb Teicher and Sam Weber join forces for a classic American tap duet; CHRP’s Stone Soup Rhythms ensemble will premiere innovative, multi-dimensional choreography led by Dani Borak, Artist in Residence; Charles Renato, Ayodele Casel, and Jason Janas will perform spectacular solos before joining together for a trio jam session; and, virtuoso Cartier Williams will perform his newest show, Zigity Bop! with special guests Star Dixon, Luke Hickey, Aqura Lacey, Tokumi Watanabe and Lacey Thomas.
Saturday, July 21st at 7:30pm: Another extraordinary evening unfolds with Stone Soup Rhythms ensemble premiering more new works by Dani Borak; Bril Barrett, Ja’Bowen and Star Dixon will perform a striking trio followed by solos by Tre Dumas and Nico Rubio; and finally Rhythm World closes with Rhythm ISS reuniting the original members of the influential, all-female tap dance company from the late 90s! (I)della Reed-Davis, (S)arah Savelli, and (S)haron Rushing have assembled an amazing cast of Chicago-based female hoofers to join them in revisitng the company’s intricate rhythms and signature style with a special appearance by the legendary Dianne “Lady Di” Walker!
PHOTOS (from top): (Courtesy of Chicago Human Rhythm Project) • Dani Borak (Photo by Milad Ahmadvand) • Dani Borak (Photo by Milad Ahmadvand) • Daniel Borak (Photo by Andreas Gemperle) • Dani Borak (Photo by Milad Ahmadvand) • Stone Soup Rhythms (Photo by Philamonjaro) • Stone Soup Rhythms (Photo by Philamonjaro)