South Chicago Dance Theatre (SCDT) will premiere a pair of new performances in February as part of its Black History Month celebration.
The company, which was started four years ago in Hyde Park, will begin its two-part program on Feb. 20 with a modern piece set to Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech, as well as spiritual music sung by Harry Belafonte and Bernice Johnson Reagon.
The second part is an homage to the history of jazz in Chicago, and incorporates Langston Hughes’ poem “I, Too.”
“The MLK piece is modern dance, and it’s a little quieter,” said Kia Smith, executive director and resident choreographer at SCDT. “I wanted a burst of fun....Jazz is for me the way to do that. It’s truly a Black form that has been molded with so many other forms to be this thing that’s uniquely American.”
Smith has a personal connection to jazz in Chicago, too — her father, the saxophonist Jimmy Ellis, helped kickstart Jazz in the Alley during the sixties, in which, as the name suggests, musicians would play live jazz in city alleys.
Though the public performance is one-time only, SCDT will do a virtual tour of schools in Chicago and the suburbs, pairing the dance with an educational component. That’s something the company has been doing for a couple of years, though Smith said that this year’s show is “more well-suited for adults and families, and not as much an educational show.”
SCDT got the idea for the online Black History Month performance after putting on a virtual edition of its South Chicago Dance Festival this past fall.
“We ended up doubling the amount of attendance and ticket sales from the event. People from all over the world were able to log in and watch, so we thought we’d do a big thing in February for Black History Month,” Smith said. “It’s made things so much more accessible. We’ve had so much success with these virtual performances that we need to offer a streamed option once we go back to in-person shows.”
South Chicago Dance Theatre, Black History Month Performance Series. Feb. 20, 7 p.m. $10-$150. scdtblackhistory.eventbrite.com