River North Dance Chicago: a Discourse in Perfection
By Glen Creason
I really need the “Better Than Great: A Plentitudinous Compendium of Wallopingly Fresh Superlatives” to do justice to the dance performance of “River North Dance Chicago” at the Performing Arts Center last weekend. There was a large crowd for the rather esoteric art of dance and they were treated to an eye-misting beautiful cast of 13 dancers who performed brilliant choreography, amidst astoundingly eclectic and memorable sounds with fall-to-your-knees lighting and costumes that lived up to all of that and more. Kudos are in order for artistic director Frank Chaves who must rehearse these young dancers into almost clarified perfection. Not only is the program packed with seven sensational pieces, it demands many extended segments involving the entire company moving in crisp harmony that takes your breath away but never seems to tire the young performers.
The dancers got the audience up on the edge of their seats at the starting gate of “Evolution of a Dream” with the lyrical introduction building into the driving beat of the Eurhythmics “Sweet Dreams” which seemed to inspire a high-energy synchronicity that just sent endorphin-impulses throughout the entire hall. The plain velour costumes were spot-on for a work focusing on a blend of dance clubs and modern dance. Dancer Ahmad Simmons provided a counter-point to the ensemble dominated first segment with “Beat.” His graceful and expressive solo was a lesson in graceful control and anatomy. The lighting here as throughout the entire performance was essential in creating a memorable scene. “Sentir em Nos” was something completely different with an operatic sounding Portuguese song danced by the couple whose precise partner work demanded that they never actually separate from one another. Michael Gross was a standout here and throughout. Appropriately “Even for Us” was the most romantic piece on a program filled with passion and love. A four-part tribute to the music of Miles Davis finished the first half and it was nothing but a home run, touching all the bases with grace and classic style.
The second half broke in a different direction but once more with the industrial-techno pure percussion throb of “Le Tambours du Bronx” (a Cerritos
show once upon a time) in “The Train.” The performance moved toward absolutely explosive energy and joyous movement with a solo within the piece by Hanna Brictson that defied superlatives. When the drumming ceased there were more than a few open mouths in the audience whispering to no one in particular “wow.” This was followed by the sweetly lyrical and gentle duet of “Fixe” with its whimsical score and ingenious eco-camouflage costumes. The grand finale was an absolute feast of grand classical Cuban dance music. With brilliantly colored and designed costumes the company moved with more of balletic style but with such sensual delight that the entire six songs were an intoxicating concoction of dance nectar. The music was cleverly mixed between the vintage smoothness of Morton Gould’s Orchestra and Percy Faith spiced by the passionately earthy vocals of Carlos Puebla and Omara Portuondo. The dancers superbly executed choreography to this “Habaneras, the Music of Cuba” was dreamy, evocative, bountiful and very beautiful. If the director Chavez dedicated this piece to his father he has done him a great honor.