RIVER NORTH DANCE CHICAGO
When: Oct. 10 and 11 at 8 p.m.
Where: Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 22o E. Randolph
Info: (312) 334-7777;
Run time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission
To keep a contemporary dance company alive for 25 years — let along to oversee its artistic growth and foster the development of an international reputation — is nothing less than a Herculean feat. So attention should be paid as River North Dance Chicago celebrates its Silver Anniversary this weekend with two performances at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance.
The program, which I caught at a jam-packed gala performance Wednesday night that showcased two new works — the U.S. premiere of Spanish choreographer Ivan Perez’s “Flesh,” and artistic director Frank Chaves’ world premiere, “In the End,” as well a revival of Sherry Zunker’s super sexy, MTV-lik 1992 repertory favorite, “Reality of a Dreamer” (set to music of Douglas Johnson and The Eurythmics) — offered irrefutable evidence that the 12-member company is in peak form at the moment. It is dancing more beautifully and subtly than ever, and the dancers’ technical and expressive powers are on a remarkably uniform level.
Perez’s “Flesh” is a revelation. Created for Nederlands Dance Theater II, it captivated Chaves when he saw it on YouTube, and he immediately sensed it was an ideal work for his company.
In a program note, Perez explained that the work grew out of the time, early in his career, when both his parents died and he became obsessed with the concepts of memory, loss, love and death. He also came across a poem, Keith Douglas’ “The Knife,” written during World War II when the poet was just 24, that gave the dance its structure. At various moments during this hypnotic work that poem is heard as a voice-over, along with the music of Eric Whitacre and Arvo Part. And the dance itself — which takes the form of two duets (magnificently performed by Jessica Wolfrum and Ahmad Simmons, and Hayley Meier and John Litzler), a quartet and a finale for eight (that includes Hanna Brictson, Hank Hunter, Ethan R.Kirschbaum and Olivia Rehrman) — is a piece of pure poetry.
It is rare in contemporary choreography to find the sort of passionate intimacy, both physical and emotional, that is so exquisitely limned here. And that sense of connection — whether real, remembered or just beyond recapturing — is realized through the most fluid combination of intertwining, rolling and soaring of bodies that rise and fall in a series of ever-shifting spirals. The motion is continual but full of magical dynamic shifts, and the lyricism and anguish of loss is palpable. Tom Visser’s lighting is in gorgeous synchrony with the movement.
Chaves, who has helmed River North for 22 years, suffers from a spinal problem and “In the End” is the first piece he has choreographed from a wheelchair. You would never guess this piece came from a man who could not demonstrate the moves he envisioned.
“In the End” is a piece for the company’s six outstanding male dancers and was created to explore what Chaves explained “is the way society, politics, religion and family” can destroy the bonds of male bonding and affection. Some will interpret it as homoerotic; others will see it as a look at how male behavior is undermined by the fear of such bonding. Either way, the choreography is fascinating, with the opening sequences finding the men in a horizontal line, arms outstretched and clasped to support individual riffs, and then seated in a line on the floor, with heads, arms and legs intersecting in fierce, poetic ways. As the work progresses, the connections between the men become more agitated and separate, until they all dress in suits and ties and their synchrony is lost. The dancers — Levizadik Buckins, Drew Fountain, Hunter, Kirschbaum, Litzler and Simmons — are superb.
The psychological and physical shifts are deftly underscored by an eclectic mix of music by Zoe Keating, Secret Garden, Anibel Arias y Osvaldo Montes, Olafur Arnalds, and Ezio Bosso, withs superb lighting by Joshua Paul Weckesser.
This weekend’s concerts will include the three pieces discussed above as well as Adam Barruch’s “I Close My Eyes Until the End” and Chaves’ rapturous duet, ‘The Mourning.”
Following this Chicago celebration, River North will head off for a tour of four cities in Israel, 13 cities in Germany and a slew of engagements in various American cities. A grand anniversary season in every way.