River North Dance Chicago (RNDC), one of the city’s top contemporary dance  companies, is about to undergo some major changes.

Frank Chaves, 55, who has served as the company’s artistic director and principal choreographer for the past 23 years of its quarter-century existence – and helped put the troupe on the national and international map – will be retiring as of the end of December. For the past 10 years he has been dealing with syringomyelia, a rare degenerative spinal cord condition, undergoing four surgeries along the way. For the past year he has been in a wheelchair, but has continued to choreograph.

The company’s fall engagement – Oct. 3 at the Auditorium Theatre – will be a farewell program devoted to Chaves’ work (he created 25 pieces for the company over the years), and will include the work of other other favorite pieces in the repertoire. River North will then go “on hiatus” until Fall 2016, as, according to board president Marcus Boggs, “We search for and hire a new executive director [filling the spot left vacant for the past year following the departure of Gail Kalver], and a new artistic director.”

"Habanera," set to Cuban music, is among the many works artistic director Frank Chaves has choreographed for River North Dance Chicago. (Photo: .....)

“Habaneras,” set to Cuban music, is among the many works artistic director Frank Chaves has choreographed for River North Dance Chicago.

“I’ve done my time in terms of running a company,” said Chaves, clearly emotional about the official announcement of his decision. “But I plan to continue choreographing for other companies, and for River North, if it’s right for the situation. My imagination is still intact. I also will be focusing on my health.”

Founded in 1989, and known for its athletic, sensual and highly dynamic repertoire, River North Dance Chicago has a company of 12 dancers and an annual budget of $1.6 million, with touring engagements making up about 25 per cent of its performance dates.  It has traveled to 250 venues worldwide, including in Europe, Asia and South America.

In addition to works by Chaves (who, earlier in his career danced with New York’s Ballet Hispanico, Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago, and, for six years, with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago), the company’s repertoire includes includes pieces by such renowned choreographers as Mauro Astolfi, Adam Barruch, Robert Battle, Sidra Bell, Ashley Roland, Nejla Yatkin, Ivan Perez and others.

River North Dance Chicago in "Forbidden Boundaries." (Photo: Erika Dafour)

River North Dance Chicago in “Forbidden Boundaries.” (Photo: Erika Dafour)

The company’s formidable dancers have been told that they will be able to return to the company in the Fall of 2016 without “re-auditioning.”

“We see this as an ideal moment to re-evaluate the company from a business perspective,” said Boggs. “We are in the process of formulating a search committee now, with the choice of an executive director – who we hope will have a strong Chicago footprint – to be made first. The international search for an artistic director will begin in 2016.”

“The MacArthur Foundation has funded the salary of a consultant to help us in all these decisions,” Boggs said. “And we hope to secure underwriting for the salaries of our new executive and artistic directors for a year, as well as develop new sources of funding and additional donors. By the Fall of 2016 we hope to emerge as something new on the Chicago dance landscape.”

Note: RNDC will perform as part of this summer’s Dance for Life gala on Sat., Aug. 15 at the Auditorium Theatre.

River North Dance Chicago in Frank Chaves'"Underground."  (Photo: Cheryl Mann)

River North Dance Chicago in Frank Chaves’ “Underground Movements.” (Photo: Cheryl Mann)