Photos courtesy of Las Guitarras de España

“When I hear a song, so many dances can fit into whatever music I hear. The dances are already in me, so I pick one that fits with the music I´m working with.” Idy Ciss, one of Muntu Dance Theater of Chicago’s principal dancers, the company´s Assistant Artistic Director and also beloved West African dance teacher is describing how he works with flamenco beats, in his performance collaborations with the highly-regarded Guitarras de España ensemble.

These collaborations are part of an artistic project created by Carlo Basile, founder of the Guitarras de España collective. Basile spent time in Senegal with Massamba Diop, Baaba Maal´s main talking drummer. The result of his deep interest in West African music and other international genres has been to develop an artistic space that allows a structured collaboration between some of Chicago’s most renowned musicians and dancers.

As part of the programs in the series, the guest artists always present a sample of their traditional forms directly. In the September 24  program at the Mayne Stage, The Ensemble of Ragas will open with a traditional Indian music and dance set. Then, Ciss and his group of four dancers and three drummers (who all also perform with Muntu) will be showcased in a set of traditional West African music and dance accompanied by acclaimed kora player Morikeba Kouyate, visiting from his base in New Orleans. Ciss describes the high energy West-African drum and dance as being in a “marriage – one cannot exist without the other. When you dancing, the drums are speaking whatever you are dancing, that is what they are playing.”

Finally, Las Guitarras de España will provide musical templates for the “Music and Movement” set, where Basile has taken pieces that create contexts for three forms of dance: modern, flamenco and West African, and in that order, he says “so it’s like dance forms return in time.” Basile explains that these selections, on the one hand, consist of familiar melodies that are usually performed in one type of classical, solo environment. However, he has added to them a series of unusual grooves. The first part will allow improvised modern dance forms performed by Nadine and Bob of Posterchild Art. The second segment will highlight Flamenco music and the percussive, passionate dance form of that art performed by Wendy Clinard of the Clinard Dance Theater. Finally, the last segment will partly take off of Fela Kuti tunes, and will allow Ciss to create movement, almost in ‘call and response’ to the music. The result, says Basile, is “It’s almost like a concert that’s an organized jam – in the music you can hear the connections, and in the dance you see the connections.”

I can’t help but thinking and one that on some level it must have been like that centuries ago in our Americas, when all the cultures that have formed our melodies and rhythms collided as peoples were brought together by force, chance or destiny. And now, just like then, peoples from vastly different places find a common joyful language in the music and the movement.


The 4th Concert of Las Guitarras de España Music and Movement Series will be performed Sept. 24 at the Mayne Stage

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