In Historic Black American artist’s Mecca that is Bronzeville, we were transported to a time where the so-called “High Priestess of Soul” could grace us with her presence on a Chicago stage.
After a cluster of small showcases by local and affiliated dance companies, and soloists, The MADD Rhythms newest production took stage.This is the magic that ensued for this reporter as Founding Director and performer (and emcee!) Brill Barrett introduced MADD Rhythms’ newest premiere: Feeling GOOD: A MADD Tribute to Nina Simone.
A trio of powerhouse voices boomed and sweetly sustained as the name sake’s first tribute played. Expertly and naturally layered came the decadent ballgown-donned vocals, the 4-piece jazz band, and of course the MADD Rhythms tap dancers, known for not only their impressively intricate tap choreography, but their skillful individual improvisation. Shimmering cymbals provided the backdrop to highlight and seemingly make each highlighted tapper appear.
MADD Rhythms Family
MADD Rhythms’ family - honorary and actual, Chicago dance community members, lovers of Nina, and many more filled the Harold Washington Cultural Center to witness the tap collaboration to the late composer and vocalist work. In the young, just 14 year old center for the arts and theatre, the spirit of rich, Chicago Black History lay in the Blues, Modern, Jazz, Hip Hop, and more that has graced its space.
Four Women featured just what the famous song entailed. Highlighting 4 stories and images of femininity, we were introduced to Aunt Sarah, Saffronia, Sweet Thing, and Peaches.
We were taken on reminiscent highs, and notably sobering moment of reckoning with the rendition of Strange Fruit. . A male-dominant tapping cast struck powerfully to a stirring cry of historical-yet-timely lyrics, all to a blood-red-washed stage of lights. Melodic cries filled the hall, reflecting the emotive storytelling in the rising volume of this percussive dance.
Soon after we’re met with cheerfulness and even laughter as the the tempo raised to meet the musical theatre-esque vocals of Mississippi Goddamn. Tap cyphers ensued on stage as the tappers formed a semi-circle, introducing each dance artist by showcasing their movement across the floor.
Lingering audience members congratulated the show’s stars in the lobby after the performance. MADD Rhythms indeed had the art-lovers of Bronzeville feeling good!
“Feeling GOOD” seems to this tap appreciator and Nina superfan a largely appropriate name for MADD Rhythm’s new dance production.
Taps by MADD Rhythms
Vocals by Dee Alexander, Maggie Brown, Joan Collaso, Tecora Rogers
Musical Direction and Drums by Ben Johnson
Piano by Charlie Johnson
Bass by Chuck Webb
Guitar by Buddy Frambo
Directed and Produced by Bril Barrett
Danced by Sarah Sevelli, Martin “Tre” Dumas III, Bril Barrett, Star Dixon, Donnetta Jackson, Tristan Bruns, Megan Davis, Jabowen Dixon, Victoria Jones, Latrell Garnett, Alexandryan Fryson, and Andrew Carr
Learn more about dance by seeing dance through dancers eyes in the Picture This Post series, “Choreographers’ Eyes - Dancers Explain Dance”. Watch this video preview of the story here—
To learn more about MADD Rhythm’s future events, please visit the MADD Rhythms website.
Photos: Burrell Sunrise
About the Author:
Brittany Harlin is the founding artistic director of Chicago Urban Dance Collective and 2017 recipient of the Chicago Dancemakers Forum Lab Artist Award. Her influences are Hip Hop and Modern Dance Pioneers. In addition to company work, her dancing and choreography has been featured at Ragdale Foundation, Links Hall, Elastic Arts, Aragon Ballroom, DRAMA Duo Music Productions, Black Ensemble Theatre, and Hip Hop International.
Brittany’s focus is Hip Hop, Modern, Funk Styles, Waacking, and House, combined with growing knowledge of somatics and kinesiology, all through the concert dance lens. Her goal is to bring dance education to a place of complete body awareness, spiritual expression, and connection. Brittany hopes to establish her practice in expressive therapy, creating opportunities, and inclusiveness.
Her teaching artist pedagogy & philosophy are weighted in respecting the integrity of the vernacular movement, by sharing what she’s been taught from respected community members - and stopping exactly there. She relates those concepts to personal natural movement, and the energy of the dancers she’s working with. Her goal is to create solidarity between diverse backgrounds, conducive to the essence and intention of The Hip Hop Socio-Political Movement. Harlin’s passion in dance extends to her community as she has launched her most recent endeavor of teaching professionalism and industry standards to aspiring professional dancers.
When Brittany isn’t dancing, she is supplementing her work with her passions for poetry and songwriting. She’s been referred to as a fawn and a hippie on multiple, separate occasions.