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SAO: Muntu Dance Company


Free Event - no tickets required

In the Bantu language, "muntu" means "the essence of humanity."

Founded in 1972, The Chicago-based Muntu Dance Theatre performs authentic and progressive interpretations of contemporary and ancient African and African-American dance, music, and folklore. A colorful and dynamic Company, Muntu brings its audiences out of their seats and into the aisles with its unique synthesis of dance, rhythm and song.

Muntu will be conducting a one-hour workshop at 1 PM, followed by a performance at 8 PM.

. . .

“Because of Africa’s deeply ingrained call-and-response structure, every expression is part of a conversation, not only between performers but with the audience. That produces an extraordinary investment in the moment.”

Laura Molzahn, Chicago Tribune (on Muntu Dance)

In the Bantu language, “muntu” means “the essence of humanity.” For Muntu Dance Theater, that essence is found in an ongoing effort of conversation, as noted above by Molzahn. Broadly construed, this conversation—including not only the auditory, but also the physical, kinetic, visual, spiritual and historical dimensions of call-and-response dialogue between peoples—is the center of the work of the Muntu Dance Company.

The group, which has existed as a performance and educational group in various forms since 1972, practices an “authentic and progressive interpretation of contemporary and ancient African and African-American dance, music and folklore.” This work has been conversational from the outset, continually engaging in the navigation of the boundaries between ancient and contemporary performance-styles, as well as those originating from different cultures. While upholding a high regard for artistic innovation, Muntu also keeps the historical dimension of their creative, human dialogue alive by maintaining an equivalent regard for ancient-African performance forms and techniques. They have allowed the old and the new to talk to each other, to coalesce in a balanced historical conversation between tradition and progression, all in the form of gorgeous movement and music.

Muntu Dance Co. identifies as a group of both performers and educators. Accordingly, the artistic and historical conversation they aim to facilitate has extended into educational dimensions. In addition to holding dance workshops prior to performances, the group launched A.C.E., or Arts for Community Empowerment, their official arts education program, in 1993. The program partners with schools, park districts and community centers in the Chicago-area to provide quality training in dance, music and the visual arts for community-members from five to fifty-years-old. This community work includes in-school residencies and professional training for promising young artists, all within the framework of an invitation to engage with “muntu,” to join in a dialogue that reaches back to an ancient aesthetic and cultural history, while also speaking into the lived-experiences of contemporary communities and individuals and creating an avenue for the expression of those experiences, of “muntu.”

The conversation, the dwelling place of “muntu,” is open. Muntu Dance Theater keeps it that way. Literally, audience-members are frequently invited onstage to physically join the ongoing conversation that the group has facilitated for over fifty years. This conversation has interconnectedness at its center. In the immediate, people in the proximate physical space of a performance or workshop are invited to join by offering their attention, and sometimes their kinetic commentary as well. History, too, is shown to be connected to the present, as forms of performance from the span of the African and African-American dance tradition intersect and coalesce while keeping their distinctness. People are shown to be non-islands, having within them the capability to engage with the “muntu” of others and to express their own in response. The conversation—an exploration and an expression of “muntu”—truly embodies a spirit of resilience and celebration. The intersecting web of human experience is put on display, as the bodies of wonderfully trained dancers and musicians tell a story, thus inviting others to listen, to witness others’ histories and examine their own, to tell their own story, and ultimately, to be reminded of the complex and interweaving sublimity of human experience.

—Daniel Hickey

September 2017
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