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‘Juba!’ to celebrate eclectic rhythmic styles

Ted Louis Levy

Ted Louis Levy

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When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday

Where: Museum of
Contemporary Art
Theater, 220 E. Chicago

Tickets: $25-$32

Info: (312) 397-4010;

Updated: September 1, 2013 6:06AM

First, a dictionary definition: “Juba is a dance originating among plantation slaves in the southern United States featuring rhythmic handclapping and slapping of the thighs.”

But that definition doesn’t begin to suggest the diverse nature of “Juba!,” the annual event produced by the Chicago Human Rhythm Project (CHRP), a showcase of the work of masters of tap and percussive dance from the U.S. and around the globe. A series of three different programs at the Museum of Contemporary Art Theatre (July 31, and Aug. 1 and 3 at 7:30 p.m.), it is the culmination of CHRP’s 23rd annual festival that included two weeks of master classes, student showcases, tap jams, and more, all held at the American Rhythm Center housed in Chicago’s historic Fine Arts Building.

The July 31 performance, “Broadway and Bronzeville,” will feature award-winning dancer-choreographer Ted Louis Levy in an excerpt from his show “Sammy – The Life and Times of Sammy Davis Jr.”

The Chicago-bred Levy is familiar to audiences here for his memorable turns in both “My One and Only” (at the Marriott Theatre last year) and “The Hot Mikado” (at Drury Lane Oakbrook in 2010). He readily admits he bears little physical resemblance to the “Yes I Can” man, but his performance is meant to be “a tribute rather than an imitation.” And the two men have intertwined dance roots.

“I had the privilege of being trained in Chicago by Shirley Hall Bass, who toured as a “Dyerette,” part of Sammy’s opening act,” said Levy, “I also was mentored by Mr. Finis Henderson II, Sammy’s former manager and friend. I even had the pleasure of working with Sammy — once — on the Jerry Lewis Telethon, during the run of my first Broadway show, ‘Black & Blue.’ And I played Sammy’s dad in a Leslie Bricusse musical done at San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre.”

“My goal is to help a contemporary audience understand what made Sammy so special,” said Levy, who will be backed by a live band, and accompanied by “some younger cats who will be dancing with me.”

Along with Levy’s big number, “Mr. Bojangles,” there will be such classic numbers as “I Gotta Be Me,” ‘The Candy Man,” “What Kind of Fool Am I” and “Smile.” The evening also will include performances by Chicago’s M.A.D.D. Rhythms, and Lisa La Touche and Jason Janas (of “Stomp!”), accompanied by the Greg Spero Trio. A bonus: The screening of the 2013 Virtual Rhythms Videography winner.

The Aug. 1 program, “Berkshires and Brazil,” will include Brazilian “sapateado” guest artists Marina Coura, Charles Renato and Leonardo Sandoval (featured on Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony’s “Q-Vida!”), accompanied by their Brazilian quartet in a world premiere of Brazilian rhythms and dance created for the MCA. And, direct from her evening-length premiere of “The Blues Project” at Jacob’s Pillow, award-winning Michelle Dorrance will share the stage with Broadway stars Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, Derick K. Grant, Nicholas Young and CHRP’s ensemble BAM! in a performance of Dorrance’s “Push Past Break,” to the Greg Spero Trio.

Finally, there is the “Bad Boys, Back Beats and Best Bets” program on Aug. 3, featuring Jason Janas, Sam Weber, Martin “Tre” Dumas, Jumaane Taylor and Nico Rubio. These dancers push the limits of dynamic physical rhythmic expression. And they will be joined by emerging voices “discovered” at this year’s festival.

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