Black Ensemble Theater thinks globally for first International Cultural Festival

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Jackie Taylor, founder and artistic director of the Black Ensemble Theater, is a woman with a longstanding, all-consuming mission. So when you ask her about the thinking behind BET’s first International Cultural Festival — a mix of music, theater, film and dance running June 1-6 at the intimate 299-seat Black Ensemble Cultural Center at 4450 N. Clark —she is ready to roll.

Jackie Taylor, artistic director of the Black Ensemble Theater (Photo: Daniel Nicholas)

Jackie Taylor, artistic director of the Black Ensemble Theater (Photo: Daniel Nicholas)

“Our goal is to eradicate racism,” says the indefatigable Taylor, whose audiences are often held up as a prime example of how black and white theatergoers and music lovers can come together. “One way to do that is to bring different cultural entities, and different art forms that our audiences might or might not be familiar with, to our stage as a reminder of the problems we face worldwide. These things are not specific to Chicago, or Mississippi. And while they might take somewhat different forms, they are not foreign to us. What we want to do with the festival is open up the conversation so we start thinking about our connections as human beings.”

Here’s the complete lineup:


Tsukasa Taiko (7 p.m. June 1): This leading Japanese taiko (percussion drumming) group, based in Chicago, is the largest multigenerational community ensemble in the Midwest performing in traditional and contemporary forms. It aims to strengthen Japanese-American/Asian-American communities and reflect a shared culture through taiko performances “infused with contemporary expressions.” Admission: $10.


“Empanada for a Dream” (7 p.m. June 2):Combining elements of Colombian and Caribbean culture, Juan Villa has set his show on Allen Street in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, where everybody is blasting music (bacchata, merengue, salsa) and cooking (plantains, paella, and empanadas). In his vivid memoir, Villa uncovers his family’s dark legacy on the streets of New York, giving us a portrait of family,neighborhood and “the secret that destroys it all” in this tale about “growing up by getting out and coming back home.”

“This is a great opportunity for me to tap into a complementary but different market,” said Villa whose next project, running Aug. 25-Sept 27 at the Storefront Theater, will be “The Adventures of Don Chipotle,” a magical adventure story with puppetry, animation and a children’s choir, in which two 11-year old altar boys seek to put the world right. Admission: $30.

Juan Villa in his one-man show “Empanada for a Dream.”

Juan Villa in his one-man show “Empanada for a Dream.”


“After the Fall — HIV Grows Up” (7 p.m. June 4) and “The World Before Her” (7 p.m. June 3): “After the Fall” harks back to 1989, as communism fell across Eastern Europe and doctors and nurses in Romania quickly discovered they were dealing with an epidemic of pediatric AIDS in their hospitals and institutions. With a lack of medicine and very limited knowledge of the disease, many health care workers risked their lives to help the nearly 13,000 children infected with HIV and AIDS. Director Fr3deR1ck Taylor’sfilm looks back at those who were on the front line and looks forward at the hopes and challenges for those patients who, against all odds, are growing into independent young adults. The Canadian documentary “The World Before Her,” written and directed by Nisha Pahuja, explores the complex and conflicting environment for young girls in India by profiling two who are participating in very different types of “training camps.” One, Ruhi Singh, aspires to become Miss India; the other, Prachi Trivedi, is a Hindu nationalist with the group Durga Vahini.Admission: $10.


“ASE,” presented by the Chicago Association of Black Storytellers (7:30 p.m. June 5): A term from the Yoruba people of Nigeria, West Africa, ASE “affirms that there is power in our words; not just the words we speak, but the words and feelings we express in our stories.” Taylor said she was “blown away” when she first experienced “the way these artists blend traditional African folklore, contemporary stories and drums.” Eight performers in traditional costumes will be featured in the program.Admission: $15.


Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago (8 p.m. June 6): Founded in 1972, Muntu performs authentic and progressive interpretations of contemporary and ancient African and African-American dance, music and folklore. Renowned for “bringing audiences out of their seats” with its unique synthesis of dance, rhythm and song, the company both preserves traditional African dance while creating new works that build on African, Caribbean and African-American cultural traditions. This program will feature selected works from its repertoire.Admission: $25.

For details, call (773) 769-4451 or visit

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