MCA Chicago to Spotlight Black Creativity This August
This August, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago presents three innovative performances celebrating black creativity in music and dance, from jazz and gospel to step and social dancing. Performers Rennie Harris, Dahlak Brathwaite, Thurman Barker, and Ben LaMar Gay tell their stories in new ways that connect race, community, music, and movement. MCA Associate Curator of Performance Tara Aisha Willis organizes these commissioned performances and presents them in various stages of development. Willis says, "I am excited to open the season with four artists who alter our expectations of what black performance is and how it can tell a story. We are proud to support these performers in developing works that celebrate black culture and engage with issues affecting black communities, such as inequity, forgiveness, and justice. I am also thrilled that black artists from Chicago are an influential part of that picture."
Rennie Harris: LIFTED
August 23-24, various times
The MCA welcomes legendary hip-hop dance theater choreographer Rennie Harris to present his new work-in-progress Rennie Harris: LIFTED, a loose adaptation of Oliver Twist. The performance follows Joshua, a teen orphan who has been relocated to live with his religious relatives, on his journey from joining a band of pickpockets to finding salvation and worship in the communal experience of house music and dance. This awakening is often referred to as "going to church." Performed by a group of Chicago hip-hop dancers (Daniel 'Bravemonk' Haywood, Angel Anderson, and Jeremy Taylor) with vocalists from Mosaic Soul and St. Benedict the African Catholic Church-an architectural landmark church in the Englewood neighborhood on Chicago's South Side--the performance is set to an original soundtrack of gospel-inspired house music and follows a community in their deep examination of communion and redemption, and broader social justice concerns.
Known as one of the first choreographers to bring hip-hop to the concert stage, Harris's work looks at African-American cultural practices through a contemporary lens. Keeping with past works such as Rome and Jewels-an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet-Harris updates the classic coming-of-age tale Oliver Twist to explore the practices and traditions of the black church, and the ways communities address issues of morality and spirituality today.
Dr. Rennie Harris founded Rennie Harris Puremovement, dedicated to preserving hip-hop culture through workshops, lectures, residences, and performances. Dr. Harris received a medal from the Kennedy Center as a master of African-American choreography. Rennie Harris: LIFTED is presented as part of the MCA New Works Initiative.
Dahlak Brathwaite: Try/Step/Trip
August 16, 7:30 pm
Presented as a work-in-progress, Try/Step/Trip is a performance by hip-hop artist, poet, actor, and activist Dahlak Brathwaite that re-imagines the artist's personal journey through a court-ordered drug rehabilitation program. A chorus of step dancers use movement, spoken word, poetry, and gospel-inspired singing to examine his struggle for vindication in the eyes of the law and society, looking at what the artist sees as a cultural 'rite of passage' for many young black men. The title of the work, Try/Step/Trip, is drawn from a piece in the performance in which the six performers sing that for every "two steps forward" they take "one step back," with movements that reinforce the lyrics.
Try/Step/Trip explores the artist's personal experiences in a black college fraternity and journey through the criminal justice system, from encounters with police, to Brathwaite's reflections on himself and society after being arrested. The performance is delivered primarily through spoken word and step-dancing-a form rooted in historically black fraternities and sororities-on a minimal stage set up with only a keyboard and several folding chairs. Directed by Roberta Uno with choreography by Toran Moore of the Alabama State Eclectic Dance Company, the performers use their bodies as instruments, including footwork, spoken word, and hand claps to create rhythms and sounds.
Dahlak Brathwaite is a hip-hop artist whose work was featured on the Tavis Smiley Show and HBO's Def Poetry Jam after winning the Brave New Voices International Poetry Slam in 2018. Brathwaite has performed with the artist collective iLL-Literacy at over 200 colleges and universities throughout the US and Europe, and was selected as a musician for a US State Department International Exchange fellowship called OneBeat in 2014. Dahlak Brathwaite: Try/Step/Trip is presented as part of the MCA's New Works Initiative.
Thurman Barker: South Side Suite and Ben LaMar Gay: Hecky Naw! Angles!
August 30, 8 pm
Timed to coincide with the Chicago Jazz Festival, two generations of Chicago-born composers share an evening honoring the history and future of musical experimentation and the profound influence that Chicago's musical legacy played in shaping the minds and lives of the members of the AACM and beyond.
Percussionist, composer, and educator Thurman Barker presents a quintet version of South Side Suite, a new long-form ensemble work set to be released in 2019 that looks back at how Chicago's music scene influenced his body of work. Known for his technical skill across a variety of styles including jazz, blues, Broadway, and Motown, Barker was a founding member of the New York City branch of the AACM and has toured with several notable artists including AACM founder Muhal Richard Abrams. For South Side Suite, Barker pays homage to growing up in Chicago and its deep and lasting influence on his compositions.
Ben LaMar Gay, a next-generation member of the AACM, offers a new dance and video collaboration Hecky Naw! Angles! This performance is the latest work in his series The Manipulations of Lines and Breff that explores the term "Americana" and examines the social construction of history. Gay, a cornetist and composer, draws on a variety of styles in order to present a narrative through his work. Exploring the shapes and sounds of black social dances in Chicago, such as stepping and line dancing, the performance incorporates video projections by Kim Alpert with experimental choreography created and performed by Raquel Monroe. Thurman Barker: South Side Suite and Ben LaMar Gay: Hecky Naw! Angles! are presented as part of the MCA's New Works Initiative.
Rennie Harris: LIFTED takes place in the Edlis Neeson Theater at the MCA on Friday, August 23, at 7:30 pm, and Saturday, August 24, at 2 pm. Tickets are $30.
Dahlak Brathwaite: Try/Step/Trip has mature content and takes place in the Edlis Neeson Theater at the MCA on Friday, August 16, at 7:30 pm. Tickets are $15.
Thurman Barker: South Side Suite and Ben LaMar Gay: Hecky Naw! Angles! take place in the Edlis Neeson Theater at the MCA on Friday, August 30, at 8 pm. Tickets are $15.
All tickets can be reserved at www.mcachicago.org or by calling the Box Office at 312.397.4010.