River North Dance Chicago | 2012 Fall Engagement | Dance review
Concert dance and entertainment can sometimes feel like oil and vinegar: the mix doesn’t cohesively bind, but it still mixes. The mission of River North artistic director Frank Chaves has been to work with that concert/entertainment combo, making a nice vinaigrette, as it were.
And after twenty years on the job, Chaves has made something tasty, playing to the base of the company's supporters, but offering enough broad appeal to satisfy the casual dance fan. Part of his success has to do with his philosophy: that concert dance and entertainment are not mutually exclusive. He said as much during a brief pause in the abbreviated program last night at the Harris. (The company honored its tireless leader for two decades of service, in front of a packed house of special guests.) Chaves, though, is smart enough to know that his philosophy isn’t the only one out there. Keep within the troupe’s label, yes, but expand the range with works that are less jazz and entertainment, maybe more contemporary or more modern.
Take Adam Barruch, for example, recruited by Chaves for the 2012 Fall Engagement. The Juilliard grad premieres I Close My Eyes Until the End, a placid, fervent take on the subconscious and the conscious. The opening is decidedly contemporary, before a shift in the music, when the score changes and the dance leans slightly jazzier. But we’re talking jazzy, not flashy; the difference of which is measured more by energy and less Fosse. And there is a difference.
Nejla Yatkin—another Chaves recruit—premieres the divinely elegant, darkly lit solo Renatus, performed by company dancer Jessica Wolfrum. It’s a tour de force, as aesthetically pleasing as it is emotionally perturbed. Draped in a flowing red gown, Wolfrum moves her shoulders and back in almost excruciating fashion—nearly every detail of the shoulder blades and the joints become noticeable with in the spotlight of white light. The stage is a black canvas, the red of the gown washing over the black. It’s rife with irony, as the gown—so beautiful, so elegant—acts like a figurative burden and a literal weight on Wolfrum’s shoulders.
Then, it’s back to basics; Chaves adds his piece Forbidden Boundaries to the program. The dancers wear skimpy, white elastics, which make for inventive ways of stretching and plying, most notably during a trio (one woman, two men) engaged in aerial stunts without the harness. The work makes a nice closer, though extends its reach a tad further than it should, an ending that would do well to combine the last two sections of the four-part piece. Knowing Chaves, he’d make the combo work just fine.
River North Dance Chicago performs its full program Friday 16 and Saturday 17 at the Harris Theater. Get tickets at harristheaterchicago.org