By Kristi Kates
The famed River North Chicago Dance Company celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, with no sign of those dancing shoes slowing down any time soon.
Performing in Northern Michigan for the first time ever at the City Opera House in TC, the group will bring their nationally-acclaimed, critically-lauded skills to the region, led by artistic director Frank Chaves, who feels that one of the groups biggest appeals is in its ability to mix and translate a wide variety of musical genres into expansive, emotional dance numbers that are performed by dancers at the top of their game.
Weve expanded the box of what a jazz company is, he explains, pointing out that the current program, which is 7 to 10 dance pieces showcases the groups diverse and eclectic repertoire.
Were actually premiering a brand new piece on this tour, he says, choreographed to the music of Miles Davis, and celebrating what would have been Davis 85th birthday, were he still alive. His music is just quintessential jazz - its been quite a challenge to dance to it, as it is dense music, but it has turned out to be a highlight of the program.
Other featured numbers include Evolution of a Dream, a piece scored by the music of the Eurythmics Dave Stewart, whose own band, the Rock Fabulous Orchestra, re-recorded one of Eurythmics own hit songs, Sweet Dreams, plus a suite of complex dance duets choreographed by Chaves himself, who blended an Etta James song, music from Cirque du Soleil, and a Russian song into one cohesive piece, even though the music seems wildly diverse.
Its a mixed repertoire, he agrees, but I like to have it feel like a seamless evening - each piece stands on its own, but overall they take the audience through the entire realm of human experience.
HEART OF JAZZ
Chaves own experiences as a performer (Im a jazz dancer at heart, he says) led him to travel the world, finally settling down to some degree when a friend of his, Sherry Zunker, took over River North and invited him to work with her.
We like a lot of the same things, and we like to see a lot of the same things on stage, Chaves explains, Ive actually been with the company since very early on - not day one, necessarily, but well say from day two. In 1994, I became the companys co-artistic director, and since 2001, Ive been the sole artistic director. When I learned about River North, I felt that they really were 100 percent jazz, and I wanted to get back into that.
Chaves also attributes the groups success to their ability to draw new audiences; theyve been funded by various grants and, he says, became the perfect company to introduce the masses to dance.
I have to say that I think its our product that is responsible for our success, he says, we have a wonderfully accessible and entertaining product that people like, and thats the bottom line - people want to come and see us, and they come back to see us. Weve never been to Traverse City, so its all going to be new to that audience.
Chaves experiences as a choreographer were also expanded by his work with River North.
I had a lot I wanted to experiment with as a choreographer, he explains.
We do add modern dance in with the jazz elements - but what I like is that weve never lost sight of what we, as a company, were born with. The two things I love about jazz dance are maintaining both the accessibility and entertainment factors.
River North Chicago Dance Company will be performing at the City Opera House, 106 Front Street in Traverse City on Tuesday, April 5 at 7:30 p.m., tickets $35/$20. For more information, visit www.cityoperahouse.org or telephone them at (231) 941-8082.