Representing the truths of Chicago while carrying forth the manifold stories of the African Diaspora, The Chicago Black Dance Legacy Project returns this weekend March 25th and 26th with “Sans Pareil” at the Logan Center for the Arts.
“Sans Pareil,” which means “Unparalleled” in French points to Chicago’s founder Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable, a Haitian man known for his pioneering spirit as a trader, peacemaker and the first settler in Chicago in the 1700’s. Princess Mhoon, CBDLP’s newly promoted Director energetically asserted in a phone interview that “although Chicago is notorious for its segregation, there is a deep component of multiculturalism that reverberates throughout the city.”
This layer of diversity is deeply celebrated in the many dialects of African-American dance styles that percolate amongst the ten dance companies that comprise CBDLP. The sophomore cohort includes the esteemed six returning companies: Muntu Dance Theatre, Najwa Dance Corps, Joel Hall Dancers & Center, Deeply Rooted Dance Theatre, Forward Momentum, Chicago Multi-Cultural Dance Center & Hiplet Ballerinas in addition to electric newcomers: Praize Productions, The Era Footwork Collective, M.A.D.D. Rhythms and Move Me Soul.
The two-day extravaganza will feature an eclectic joint performance rooted in black dance styles representing the best in tap, footwork, West-African, hip-hop, modern, jazz and ballet. March 25th will feature adult performances that focus on the past and present. March 26th features powerful youth performances that propel us into the future. This afro-futuristic approach of simultaneously considering past, present and future is ultimately the bedrock of legacy-building, and CBDLP appears to have this complex discourse on lock.
As CBDLP begins to find their orbit with the second cohort, Mhoon reveals they are maintaining their equilibrium with four key pillars: Capacity Building, Advocacy, Archiving and Presenting.
Bril Barret, Founder of M.A.D.D. Rhythms, mentioned it is an honor to be a part of the CBDLP. He also always knew this is exactly where M.A.D.D. Rhythms was supposed to be. Although M.A.D.D. Rhythms is new to the CBDLP cohort, they have been making an impact in the lives of Chicagoans for over 20 years. As a leader in advocating for equity in tap dance throughout Chicago and the world, Barret was already well-versed in advocacy and organizing efforts to bridge the divide between tap dancers on the North, West and South Sides of Chicago. However, he admits that M.A.D.D. Rhythms has only been a nonprofit for four of their twenty-two years in existence.
“I didn’t know about the benefits of becoming an institution,” said Barret. “Everything I was learning was out of the necessity of doing, and so capacity building is a critical pillar for us. Another key tenant for us is the community aspect. As a cohort we have already applied for grants together and we are collaborating in ways we haven’t before. Saying ‘how do we grow TOGETHER’ creates another dynamic.”
The expansion of the multi-year project has also come with some notable changes. The cohort has shortened its timespan from three years to an ambitious two-year cohort, and they have turned their attention to the unique needs of each company. “Through a partnership with The University of Chicago’s Office of Civic Engagement each company has taken organizational assessment and is working to develop a strong strategy around its identity and individual needs,” says Mhoon. “It is important to understand that each company comes to the program at a different stage in its career and we want to be able to nurture their growth.”
Mhoon also acknowledges the many advantages of being supported by an increasing list of foundations, including lead funding from the Joyce Foundation and the Mellon Foundation and additional support from the Walder Foundation, the University of Chicago Women’s Board, and the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation. Initial support for this project was provided by the Joyce Foundation, Doris Duke Charitable Trust, and the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs (DCASE), as well as Pam Crutchfield, Ginger Farley, Maggy Fouche, and other individual donors.
Mhoon also shares that the project has greatly benefited from being housed at the University of Chicago, specifically the Logan Center for the Arts, which uses many of their in-house resources and talent such as Associate Provost and Executive Director Bill Michel, Senior Director of Community Arts Engagement Emily Hooper Lansana and Associate Director of Partnerships and Strategy Mashaune Hardy to support the ongoing efforts of the project.
Naturally, a project of this magnitude continues to require additional funding to realize the full scope of the vision. “We are still in need of additional consultants,” says Mhoon. “We want to continue to find ways to support the wider black dance companies and choreographers in Chicago that are not directly connected to the project.”
After witnessing the first cohort’s electrifying performance at Millenium Park last summer, it will be exciting to see how the bar is raised to set the project on even greater heights. Although the project is in its fourth year of existence, the night still feels young. On the heels of the two day kick off, CBDLP is also gearing up for an ambitious run the next few months as they are scheduled to present at “Art on the Mart” July 6th through September 13th, which will feature Animated Film Projection of the participating companies. Also, on September 7th, CBDLP is scheduled to present at Ravinia.
There is excitement in Chicago around witnessing these powerful companies presenting together. There is also an equal amount of enthusiasm by the Artistic Directors and company members to simply be in community with another. “It is an ideal situation to sit at the feet of both the new and seasoned companies,” says Barret. “ We are experiencing the best of both worlds by being a part of this project and we want to be a sponge but to also give back. The process of community building is really intriguing. I used to feel like I was the only one on the island but now I am one of many on the island and there are bridges where we can connect with one another. I hope that going forward this project can be a model all around the country and even the world to recognize that we can expand the reach, invest in black-owned theaters and more tentacles that support black organizations. I hope CBDLP creates a new habit that supports the sustainability of other black owned industries.”
Similar to Du Sable, Katherine Dunham, and many of the brave founders representing each company, the Chicago Black Dance Legacy Project carries a pioneering spirit. It is from these trailblazing expeditions of trading experiences, conflict resolution and ultimately seeing one another that help us to advance what we know to be possible within ourselves and our communities. By navigating uncharted terrains, CBDLP is creating a fertile foundation for black dance institutions that will continue to bear fruit for generations to come.
“Sans Pareil” by the Chicago Black Dance Legacy Project runs March 25 at 7pm and March 26 at 2pm (Youth Show) & 6pm at the Reva and David Logan Center, 915 E 60th St. Tickets are $25 General, $10 Students & Seniors and are available at UChicagoArts.edu or by calling 773-702-2787.