River North Dance Chicago’s “Love is…” | Dance review
During the first half of River North Dance Chicago’s now-annual “Valentine’s weekend” engagement at the Harris Theater, its members displayed a potent new urgency. Each moment during four short works shown back-to-back registered clearly and crisply. Each interaction between dancers had a specific hue. It was the kind of dancing that makes you feel like you’re wearing new glasses, the kind of dancing that makes so-so choreography look terrific and makes great choreography look like a million bucks.
Making fifth-year RNDC member Lauren Kias the millionaire, in a solo made by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s new director, Robert Battle. Running visual commentary on Fitzgerald’s “Air Mail Special” at the Newport Jazz Festival, Ella (2007) is Battle the Entertainer in a nutshell. (He has other facets muted here.) Kias now approaches in this role what Kanji Segawa does with its parent, Takademe (1995), to Sheila Chandra and one of Battle’s first choreographies. The crowd was rapt.
Opener Risoluta (2010, by Sidra Bell) and first-act closer Contact-Me (a world premiere by Mauro Astolfi) are for nine and eight dancers respectively and much the same otherwise as well. Risoluta is the better example of this by-now-familiar, dimly lit, hyperkinetic style, recalling Wayne McGregor but with more bounce, and Alonzo King without the Frisco fog. RNDC’s dancers rarely get the chance to be this mercurial and took full advantage, especially Hanna Brictson, Ethan Kirschbaum and Jessica Wolfrum. Ahmad Simmons was outstanding in the role created for Christian Denice, and it’s no small feat for a dancer to make one forget about Christian Denice.
The recorded score goes silent twice during during Contact-Me and it’s awesome. All you hear in the Harris Theater is the dull smack of flesh on flesh, or flesh on floor; heaving breaths and gasps for air; half-swallowed shrieks of exertion; and the wonderful sound of hundreds of people all paying close attention to the same thing. During the rest of Contact-Me, it’s just too hard to appreciate the dancers’ complete commitment to Astolfi’s sound albeit derivative concept. Giovanni Sollima’s pieces for cello are fine if hard to connect with the action onstage. Jon Hopkins’s “dark” electronic soundscapes, however, are badly mixed and obnoxious, with boring storms of percussion that barge through like temper tantrums. Astolfi’s choreography, Jordan Ross’s flattering flesh-and-black costumes and especially these dancers deserve better. You don’t ladle cloying sauces over carefully prepared dishes.
Sentir em Nós (Even for Us) received a bold, fresh reading from Michael Gross and Melanie Manale-Hortin, never quicker or more luculent in RNDC artistic director Frank Chaves’s duet to Dulce Pontes and Andrea Bocelli’s duet. (They were the momentum of passion.) But Chaves’s new work, The Good Goodbyes, is a sadly monotonous number. Wearing tiffany slips (again by Ross) with maroon stains that resemble tissues used to blot lipstick, seven dancers perform steps in a variety of combinations. Chicago Children’s Choir artistic director Josephine Lee performed live her original score for piano onstage.
River North Dance Chicago’s “Love is…” engagement continues at the Harris Theater through February 12. Stay for a soirée with cocktail and dessert “pairings” themed on the dances, for an additional $25 per person, after the 8pm performance on February 11.