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By Lynn Colburn Shapiro
River North Chicago
The Harris Theatre
February 13–14, 2009
Lynn Colburn Shapiro
Photo by Christopher Ash. Frank Chaves' Underground Movements.
In their Valentine’s Day program, River North did their yeomen’s best to ignite the audience with energy. Sometimes, though, even with top-notch dancing, energy wasn’t enough. The impact of the choreography, with the exception of Underground Movements, diminished from one piece to the next through a sameness of music, movement, and non-stop punch.
Uhuru, company dancer Monique Haley’s choreographic debut, began with a riveting solo for Ricky Ruiz. His dancing matched Akoya Afrobeat’s raw, percussive score with the promise of something about to explode. But the following group sequence digressed into a puzzling pattern of couples that evoked 1950’s social dancing.
Beat, a structured improvisation by Ashley Roland, showcased Haley’s virtuosity and passion as a dancer. However, her movement, overpowered by Evan Solot’s driving music, never developed beyond its own frenzy.
Company director Frank Chaves’ premiere, Tuscan Rift, opened with three couples choreographed to within an inch of their lives. Part one, packed with technically demanding material, could benefit from fewer movement ideas more fully developed. In part two, Chaves created a more effective intensity, especially in Christian Denice’s outstanding solo. But as it stands, Tuscan Rift lacks the dynamic shape that could elevate it into a coherent whole.
The premiere of Sentir em Nos, Chaves’ love duet for Melanie Manale-Hortin and Michael Gross, taking its cue from classic Spanish dance, seethed with passion. From the red drapes framing the upstage wings to Manale-Horton’s flowing gown, drama was in the air––but not in the dancers’ connection to each other. Manale-Horton’s lyrical arches had little influence on her bare-chested partner, who handled her with perfunctory skill. The choreography built to a conflict, gave the dancers a moment to struggle, then faded into a non-ending that left their relationship as vacant as it began.
A Mi Manera, set to the Gipsy Kings’ version of Frank Sinatra’s "My Way," treated us to three overlapping solos by different choreographers. Fluid torsos and sharp turns brought a welcome change of pace. Of special note was Sherry Zunker’s solo for Jessica Wolfrum. Its striking accents made us sit up and listen to the Sinatra classic with brand new ears.
Underground Movements, the final piece, highlights the strengths of both Chaves and his dancers. The choreography knows where it’s going, from its tribalistic beginnings to its celebratory finale. Evan Solot’s music, with the Chicago Children’s Choir singing onstage, creates a ritualistic mood. Dancers slowly emerge from a water-like fog to join hands and encircle the space. A segment of trios puts them into cage-like constructs, with two men supporting, trapping, protecting a female captive. A sense of continuous discovery––of a community evolving––gave Underground Movements the excitement to which the rest of the evening aspired.
Also on the program were Daniel Ezralow’s one-trick Pulse, sending the dancers sliding across the stage at breakneck speed, and Robert Battle’s Train, another drum barrage of angry, pent-up gestures that finally erupt in the dancers’ shouting voices.