For Lane Alexander, Artistic Director of the Chicago Human Rhythm Project, Stomping Grounds is like a reunion of old friends. When the company started 27 years ago, Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater and Trinity Irish Dance Company joined in their first concert. Now, nearly three decades later, the groups have joined together over the past couple of years for Stomping Grounds—a series of free performances celebrating percussive dance.
“It’s really tied directly to our mission to foster social reconciliation through rhythmic expression,” Alexander said. “Our community is the people who drum the ground with their feet.”
Irish step dancers, African dancers, Flamenco dancers, tap dancers—they all fall under that category. CHRP is interested in how people use their feet and their space to create movement and sound. In exploring rhythmic dance, Alexander has found cultures across the globe have traditions rooted in rhythmic dance. Stomping Grounds celebrates the diversity of this dance form.
This year’s performances began April 3, but there is still plenty to see.
For this year, Stomping Grounds visits the same neighborhoods as the first two years with the addition of a couple new venues. For the first time, the festival hold performance at the Beverly Arts Center and the Studebaker Theater.
During Stomping Grounds, the shows are not just performances. Rather the companies present a dance and lead a dialogue, bringing the companies into the community—a performalogue, as Alexander calls it.
“It’s part open rehearsal, it’s part formal performance, it’s part conversation,” he said. Each show features three companies. The events also feature food trucks and free classes at some venues, turning a regular performance into a community event.
Part of Stomping Grounds involves introducing dance to a new audience by reaching out to Chicago Public Schools, bringing dancers from each company to show their work to the students.
“They get to see the incredible ingenious way that human beings all over the world have devised to drum with their feet on the earth, and while they’re all different, they’re all similar,” Alexander said. “That’s our root message. To get people to celebrate our uniqueness, but honor and recognize our humanity, our shared tradition.”
He hopes to ignite the imagination of CPS students and inspire them to bring dance into their own lives. As for the rest of the Stomping Grounds audiences, he hopes they feel a sense of togetherness rather than adhering to a particular political ideal.
“Art can be and maybe should be transcendent and not mired in the political discourse in a way that lessens the power of art,” he said. “What we want to do is ask questions and not demand loyalty to an answer that we prescribe to the audience.”
He would rather demonstrate by performing in solidarity with a diverse group of dancers. He believes a more important message to spread is one of unity.
“I call [dance] a refuge, not an escape,” he said. “The message is that we’re all in this together. We may not agree with each other, but we’re all in it together.”
The remaining schedule is as follows:
- April 29, 7:30 p.m., Irish American Heritage Center, 4626 N. Knox Avenue: Trinity Irish Dance, host company; Chicago Human Rhythm Project, featured company; Ensemble Español, guest company
- May 2, 7:30 p.m., Studebaker Theater, 410 S. Michigan Avenue: Special guests GuGu Drum Group from Shanghai perform; special ticketed performance
- May 13, 7:30 p.m., Beverly Arts Center, 2407 W. 111th Street: Muntu Dance Theatre, host company; Trinity Irish Dance, featured company; Mexican Folkloric Dance, guest company
- May 24, 6 p.m., Garfield Park Conservatory, 300 N. Central Park Avenue–celebrating National Tap Dance Day (May 25): Ensemble Español, host company; Chicago Human Rhythm Project, featured company; Mexican Folkloric Dance, guest company
- Grand Finale: June 2, 7:30 p.m., Studebaker Theater ,410 S. Michigan Avenue: , Chicago Human Rhythm Project, Ensemble Español, Mexican Folkloric Dance, Muntu Dance Theatre and Trinity Irish Dance present an evening of mixed repertory including new and existing works.
Reservations for free events and tickets to GuGu Drum Group are available at chicagotap.org/performances/stomping-grounds/.