Friday September 22nd 2017

Momentum” River North Dance by Graham Albachten

Highly Recommended****River North Dance Chicago’s Fall Engagement, Momentum, at the Harris Theater (205 E Randolph St, Nov. 16-17) was the most engaging evening of dance I’ve experienced in years. Artistic Director Frank Chaves is celebrating his 20th year with the company and his experience shows in his pieces The Good Goodbyes and Forbidden Boundaries, which bookended an excellent program of contemporary dance. True to its mission statement, the company’s repertoire displayed the work of choreographers of both old and new – and all of it highly athletic, dramatic and exciting.

The most exciting piece of the first half was a magnificent short solo Beat, which the program listed as “a structured improvisation shaped by: Ashley Roland.” Ahmed Simmons, the dancer, long-limbed and beautiful, has an absolutely enormous stage presence. Somehow, the piece got me excited about the motion in his very fingers, and featured some inspired, colorful lighting design by Ashley Roland. Simmons amazed the audience again in his solo portion of a wild piece of choreography by Robert Battle Three after the intermission. Both pieces were heavily percussive and developed deceptively simple vocabulary to create some memorable, dynamic dance.

A few excerpts from the Sabrina and Ruben Veliz-choreographed Al Sur Del Sur (South of the South) featured Latin and ballroom inspired work. A seemingly overused concept – the tango dancehall romance – turned out to be exceptional. Sexy, theatrical and inventive choreography that expanded rather than pulled exclusively from the Latin-ballroom language, it was an often-told story of jealousy and betrayal without resorting to melodrama or caricature. I Close My Eyes Until the End, choreographed by Adam Barruch, mixed various styles of music (by Olafur Arnalds) and dance (jazz elements, hip-hop and more contemporary styles).

Renatus, a world-premiere choreographed by Nejla Yatkin and performed by Jessica Wolfrum, stole the night. Featuring an aria by Giocomo Puccini and excellent lighting by Joshua Weckesser (the way the dancer moved in and out of the light gave me shivers), it was the costume design that really made the piece: a dress, impossibly long, stretching some six feet behind the dancer, wrapped around and around, provided much of the choreographic intrigue. The dress flew around Wolfrum like fire and her movements reminded me of a bird of prey, emerging from the dress at last like a phoenix.

The evening was not without its flaws. Occasionally, the lighting design of Todd Clark made it difficult to follow the choreography (it was frequently too dark to see). My pleasure with the choreography could accurately be said to be inversely proportional to the number of dancers on the stage: ten people dancing in unison is only exciting if they dance together, both in time and stylistically. The ensemble work often lacked that discipline. Chaves’ choreography had some beautiful geometry between dancers, but got confusing when twelve individuals were doing different things at once, seemingly at random. I also found myself getting annoyed at the length of time between numbers: excessive bows and the strange practice of closing the curtain and bringing up the house lights briefly between each piece was the culprit.

Overall, however, I can safely say that if you have even a passing interest in contemporary dance, and especially if you enjoy jazzy contemporary work like that of Hubbard Street, you should go see this group whenever they’re in town. For tickets ($30-75) or more information, call 312-334-7777 or visit www.harristheaterchicago.org. River North Dance Chicago’s next Chicago performance will be April 13, at the Auditorium Theatre.

 


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