Review: Deeply Rooted Dance Theater Brings a Divine Mix of the Spiritual and Sensual in Movement and a Hot Tribute to Quincy Jones

Deeply Rooted Dance Theater gave a powerful performance that elated the audience and took me on an emotional trip down memory lane. The performers were Deeply Rooted members and company apprentices who took the audience on an evocative ride of movement and beautiful music accompaniment—a dance symphony in four movements.

The first dance, titled Vespers, was inspired by choreographer Ulysses Dove’s memories of his grandmother’s church. The music was a percussive piece called Quorum by Mikel Rouse, which is not the typical music that one might hear at a Black church on Sunday or at midweek vesper services at my granny’s church. Vespers are for deepening one’s faith with prayers, music, preaching, and Bible history. In the Black church they were like revivals with people shouting and driven by the Spirit to move. Dove created a highly stylized dance that shows how women (mostly) would be taken over and possessed by the Holy Ghost. The gravity-defying jumps and then landing on the floor recalled the fervent sensuality in shouting, creating an out-of-body joining of Spirit and the flesh.

Rebekah Kuczma and Alyssa McCallum. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Aisatnaf was a revival piece from choreographer Kevin Iega Jeff, which is listed in the program as a fan favorite. Company dancer Ahmad Hill was solo as a woodland creature reminiscent of the traditional Mexican Danza del Venado (Dance of the Deer). Hill exudes the joy of a creature roaming free with his sinewy and defined muscles gleaming. Aisatnaf is fantasia spelled backwards and this was indeed a beautiful fantasy of being the voyeur while the beautiful creature joyfully romps in the woods. This piece was one of the more balletic dances of the evening, showcasing the spectrum of dance training at Deeply Rooted.

Ahmad Hill. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

The first half of the show closed out with an excerpt of Madonna Anno Domini choreographed by Nicole Clarke-Springer, who is also the artistic director of Deeply Rooted. The title comes from a poetic manifesto of the same name by Joshua Clover. The dance begins with the historic speech from President Barack Obama in Grant Park, 2008. Obama spoke of all people being united in taking America forward. In the program a quote from Winston Churchill echoes a similar sentiment to the youth to take up the mantle of change. The dance shows the dystopian changes that happen after that leader has passed the torch. The music was by Culoe De Song and a beautiful version of The Long and Winding Road by Aretha Franklin. This dance was an emotional and inspiring vision of the journey that this country and city is taking from dystopian to a brighter future.

The tribute to Quincy Jones was called Q After Dark, and as we used to say back in the day—it was live. The orchestra led by Sam Thousand featured Chicago singers Tina Jenkins Crawley and Ameerah Tatum. A poem from Khari B unfortunately was drowned out by the music. The same thing happened with the vocals at the start before they figured out the right mix. Quincy Jones is a product of Chicago and composed some of the most well-known music of our time. The themes to Sanford and Son, and Ironside are burned into the pop culture vernacular. Quincy Jones also composed some of the biggest hits of the ’80s and ’90s. Deeply Rooted Dance Theater did the music justice.

Joshua L. Ishmon and Emani Drake. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Jones’ sound is unique with sweeping horns and strings, which Deeply Rooted matched with sensuous and sweeping movements. Selections from Body Heat, Sounds and Stuff Like That, and The Dude rocked the house. Q After Dark was choreographed by Nicole Clarke- Springer, Gary Abbott, Kevin Iega Jeff, and Joshua L. Ishmon. It was an homage to the zenith of Black music after disco and before rap and bubble pop dominated the charts. The movements were lush and layered and the connection between the dancers as an ensemble was on display. The orchestra hit its stride in balance with the vocals and the audience was on its feet. It was the perfect ending to a performance from a dance company deeply rooted in Chicago and in Black culture. It is worth your time to catch a performance from Deeply Rooted. Information about the company and performances can be found on their website

Deeply Rooted Dance Theater performed at the Auditorium Theater last Saturday. The performance was part of the Dance Chicago series.

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Kathy D. Hey
Kathy D. Hey

Kathy D. Hey writes creative non-fiction essays. A lifelong Chicagoan, she is enjoying life with her husband, daughter and three dogs in the wilds of Edgewater. When she isn’t at her computer, she is in her garden growing vegetables and herbs for kitchen witchery.

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