Red Clay’s Kinetic Aliveness @ Dance Center of Columbia College

3 out of 4 stars

When the decade old ensemble Red Clay Dance took to the Dance Center of Columbia College stage last weekend with Ugandan dance company Keiga in the evening length EKILI MUNDA/What Lies Within, it was 90 minutes of the most beautiful humans moving through space and an installation by Therese Ritchie with projections by Peter Anderson.  The four men of Keiga and four women of Red Clay created a shared vocabulary of physical communication that was strong and sensual, powerful and vulnerable, mixing modern dance vocabulary with movement drawn from urban dance parties and a lot of African dance forms. It was exhilarating to be in that room.  That said, I felt like there were layers of meaning that I struggled to understand.  

A recurrent part of the projections was a large clock, and there was a collage of seemingly vintage images that had no context for me. The movement contained leitmotifs: There was a repeating  sequence of a man being carried by a group in a crucified cross position.  There was a movement by one of the men where he would walk backwards in a kind of overdone backbend, heart chakra over opened to the universe of what may come.   There was a curled up woman crying being held aloft like a burden. There was a position that looked like the dancers were dead bugs lying on their backs strewn about the stage. Women carried men on their backs. There was a dance to Childish Gambino’s This is America, a charged quotation that I could not connect the dots on, and spent several minutes trying to parse as the collage of sculpted and curated motion moved past my eyeballs.  This work is filled with gorgeous moments of motional beauty, accompanied by a vast playlist of work ranging from Kalimba to hip hop, but these are artists who  believe deeply in Arts Activism and who have dedicated their lives and bodies to creating meaningful transformational work and I found myself struggling to hook on to what exactly that meaning was.  The bringing together of a group of African artists with African American artists is by very definition forging a better global future, and perhaps this big collage of a work with dynamic stage pictures is the precursor to something further down the road more accessible to my struggling search for meaning.  I could not decipher what lay beneath the surface of this work: what lies within.  I was more than satisfied to be entertained by this accomplished and dynamic group of dancers who put body, heart and soul into the evening. There are moments when these dancers move among us—slithering down the aisles within touching distance, and inviting us to join them for a short dance party on stage.  There is a call and response section where we audience members get to lay down the rhythm track for the dancers.  I could feel a part of this community of movers, stompers and flat out amazing dancers led by Keiga founder Jonas Byaruhanga and Red Clay founder Vershawn Sanders-Ward.

The set, a multi leveled wood construction featuring corrugated metal walls and African masks and tires gives the dancers ample opportunities to form stage pictures that are at once Chicago and Kampala. The show ends with such an image as the dancers freeze into an urban tableaux and the projections have the two flags: US and Uganda, sliding together on the wall.   

EKILI MUNDA/What Lies Within  played November 8-10 at the Dance Center of Columbia College, 1306 South Michigan Aveneue in Chicago Illinois,  For more information go to https://dance.colum.edu/

The Red Clay Dance Company is celebrating their tenth anniversary: check out what is coming up: https://redclaydance.com/index.php/performances/