Electrifying Opener for Chicago Human Rhythm Project’s Stomping Grounds

Mayumana, the Israeli percussive arts extravaganza, kicks off The Chicago Human Rhythm Project’s 5th Annual Stomping Grounds Festival with “Currents,” an electrifying take on the history of harnessed energy, Wednesday at the Harris Theater.

Inspired by the historic “battle of the currents” between Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla, “Currents” integrates percussive movement and music, theater, acrobatics, and visual art. 

Edison and Tesla were contemporaries, each dedicated to harnessing power and electricity to take humanity to a new place in the evolution of society. The competition between Edison and Tesla inspired “Currents” as an expression of electrical energy through rhythm and light.

“Every movement (we do) creates sounds,” said Boaz Berman, one of three founding artistic director/creators of Mayumana (pronounced “my-YOU-mana”). “We are creating music from the movement, from our bodies,” he explained in a recent phone conversation with See Chicago Dance. 

Berman, a professional percussionist and composer, describes himself as a mover. “It’s in my DNA,” he said. “I do a lot of sports.” He was a member of the Israeli Thai boxing team and is an active surfer. “And I always watched a lot of dance.”

He sees dancers falling into two distinct categories: those who have phenomenal technique but no internal musical energy, and those who are physically connected to rhythm and music. His eclectic collaboration with a company of acrobats, dancers, instrumental musicians, singers, and actors veers decisively toward the latter.

Pina Bausch was a great inspiration, but Berman also cites a mixture of other influences, including “crazy break dancers,” Samba and Flamenco. The international roster of company artists does everything. “Everyone has to sing, play instruments, dance, act, and move rhythmically, sometimes all at the same time,” he said, necessitating a comprehensive, rhythm-based training process that encompasses all performance disciplines. “It takes a lot of coordination to play a musical instrument while moving,” he said, especially when those instruments are as unconventional as a water bucket, with dancers wearing flippers. “You’d be amazed what sounds can come from a bucket of water!”

“Currents” playfully pits two teams of performers representing two forms of energy, one AC, the other DC, in competition with each other. Berman characterizes the DC team as “battery types," straight forward and more methodical, and the AC team as “more jumpy, more extreme, energetic and powerful.” Each has its strengths and limitations. Neither one is good for everything, “but once you put them together, once you mix them, you have it all,” he said.

Mixing otherwise isolated pockets of community, performance styles and artistic and cultural backgrounds together is what Stomping Grounds is all about. It’s also what drew Chicago Human Rhythm Project (CHRP) artistic director Lane Alexander to Mayumana. “We share a similar mission of bringing people together through rhythm,” Alexander said in a phone interview. “Rhythm is universal.”

This year’s Stomping Grounds, rounding out the CHRP’s 30th anniversary year, has grown into the longest-running percussive dance festival in the U.S., with six companies performing fourteen performances at nine different venues throughout Chicago neighborhoods. In addition to expanding the number of performances offered to accommodate audience demand, the festival has grown in several other ways.

In the past, all “Stomping Grounds” performances were free, with reserved seats available. Research has found a high rate of no-shows with free reserved seats, whereas only a 10% attrition rate when people pay a nominal ticket price. In an effort to anticipate and manage audience capacity, a shift in format offers a “free and affordable” policy, with 40% of the tickets available for $5 on Eventbrite. Free seating is available first-come/first-served thirty minutes before curtain.

At selected venues there will be two performances, matinee and evening, with audience engagement opportunities like a free class either after the matinee or before the evening performance. The DuSable Museum and the Museum of Mexican Art are two such venues this year.

In an effort to add something different into the mix, Stomping Grounds has added venues, including Carruthers Center on the Northeastern Illinois University campus, where Nico Rubio, a 2018-19 Chicago Dancemakers Forum Lab Artist, will give an informal showing of his work in progress. CHRP will help support that performance by offering 20 of the 100 seats for free.

In a similar exchange, CHRP will provide free access to 30% of the house for one of three nights at Links Hall, where Tristan Bruns will present “Sketchy.”

Last-minute “gorilla pop-ups” will offer informal events in venues of a company’s origin, such as Galway Arms Irish Pub, where dancers will drop in to jam with musicians.

This year’s Stomping Grounds companies include Stone Soup Rhythms: American tap dance; Muntu: African Dance; Trinity Irish Dance Company; Ensemble Espanol: Flamenco and Spanish dance; Natya Dance Theatre: Indian dance; and the Mexican Folk Dance Company of Chicago.

New also for Stomping Grounds, beginning with Mayumana: Each year, one of the core presenters will have the opportunity to select an international performing partner to either collaborate or perform separately on the same program. This year, CHRP’s presentation of Mayumana’s “Currents” will comprise the entire program.

“There is no political message here,” says Boaz Berman. “Just joy!”


Mayumana's "Currents" takes place Wednesday, March 20th at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph Dr. The Stomping Grounds kick-off event is March 18 at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington St. For tickets and more information, see the event pages below or visit www.chicagotap.org.