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By Zachary Whittenburg
Seismic shifts in formation occur during Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago performances that, like multimillion-dollar special-effects sequences, make the stage floor appear to lurch like the deck of a ship. The group’s 21 men, women, and percussionists share a strong sense of purpose.
That purpose has more components than just the presence of intense energy, vigorously stirred, that during a mixed bill lingers well past the start of the following company’s performance.
Like any arts organization taking a deep breath before blowing out 40 candles, Muntu has seen artists come and go, has seen its bank balance ebb and flow. Not every season brings tours to Brazil, Ghana, and Mexico—although last season brought works by Ronald K. Brown and Reggie Wilson and, in 2012, Jeffrey Page (“Why I Dance,” June) will choreograph for the troupe. For a third year, rehearsals will be held at the First Baptist Church near the University of Chicago, Muntu’s temporary home while planning continues for its own facility with studios and a theater.
Dec. 1–3 at the DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago’s Millennium Park, Muntu enters its 40th-anniversary season with a gala. The company performs five dances from its repertoire including Deidre Dawkins and Kwame Opare’s Suite Nina, and a world premiere created in-house.
This last is by Amaniyea Payne, artistic director since 1987, and rehearsal director Idy Ciss, in collaboration with the company’s dancers. It’s titled Roff, after the stuffing of ground parsley, garlic, onions, peppers, and spices common to Senegalese cuisine. Payne’s description of roff nearly generates its smell—and gives off a whiff of what it’s like to watch the company: “It opens up the senses and leaves you with this yearning for more.”
Theodore Jamison’s The Blood. Photo by Marc C Monaghan, Courtesy Muntu.