Energetic, inspiring and make you want to get up and dance too. That’s likely how you felt after watching the premiere Work In Progress piece, By Way of Taps: A J Dilla Tribute, from 2018 Chicago Dancemakers Forum Lab Artist, Nico Rubio. On Friday night, April 5th, Nico and Ayesha Jaco both presented their Work In Progress’ at NEIU’s Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies.
In the mix of DJing and tap dancing, you could see and feel the rhythms from the whole cast (Nico Rubio, Zayvion Rubio, Danny Nielsen, Starinah “Star” Dixon, Donnetta “Lil Bit” Jackson, George Patterson and Martin “Tre” Dumas III) permeating throughout the nearly 40-minute performance. Whether it was Nico, Zayvion and Danny starting things off very smoothly as a trio, or it perfectly seguing into Zayvion doing a solo before going into a very stellar solo from Danny, before Nico and Danny teamed up for a nicely choreographed duet, you could see the performers all smiling and bringing off that radiatingly great energy that made you feel in such a great space.
A very well put together duet piece performed by Star and Donnetta showing what great chemistry and fluency they had with one another, as well as such perfect segues into solos from George and Tre, amongsts other solos, duets and trios throughout. With a surprise footwork performance from Donnetta, after a very graciously executed solo from Star, before the full ensemble cast coming together for one epic full circle performance towards the end, definitely being one of the highlights from the premier performance of Nico’s piece.
I also like how in between some of the transitions of performers, while he was DJing, each artist would put down a vinyl album into a frame to show what piece they just performed to. The noticeable head-bobbing from some of the performers even got a bunch of the audience in attendance to nod their heads along to the classic J-Dilla backdrops. Rubio playing everyone from Slum Village to Erykah Budu and A Tribe Called Quest, among others used throughout, showing what great progress the work has already made, but can still be improved upon too.
Nico wasn’t the only 2018 CDF Lab Artist presenting a workpiece too, with Ayesha Jaco, also premiering her Work In Progress piece, The Chississippi Mixtape. The story in dance form of her mother and grandmother’s migration from Mississippi to Chicago.
The sound, structure and movements of the piece really beautifully showed you the struggles that Ayesha’s family and so many others had to go through in the south, like picking cotton while trying to take care of their kids at the same time. Just trying to make a living to be able to migrate to what was intended to be better lives here in Chicago.
The spoken word and some singing from Ayesha to go with the fluent movements took you to another time and place in history, truly helping to bring what she brought to the stage together really well. The mix of young dancers and performers she had so beautifully choreographed with, really showing you the pain and struggle in their faces of what her ancestors from her parents to her grandparents had to go through to come from Mississippi to here in Chicago.
This is a piece that really evokes a lot of emotions from heartache to pain, struggle and hope. The very well choreographed transitions from each chapter to the next really made you have to think and pay attention to catch every detail. It’s a very great piece so far, but can be even better and I would really like to see what comes of it when it’s fully done.
Both Nico and Ayesha’s pieces are pretty well put together so far, but you can tell both could use some small tweaks here and there, as they’re both still in development. That’s why they’re called Works In Progress right now, though both have potential to be really good when fully completed later in the next few months, and I hope to see where they go from here. Especially this being the first time I’ve reviewed something like this and it not being the norm for me. It’s a challenge I can learn from and possibly even help improve my own writing and art.