River North Chicago's Frank Chaves reflects on a great year

January 16, 2010

by Lewis Whittington
EDGE Contributor

Saturday Jan 16, 2010

Frank Chaves artistic director of River North Chicago Dance Company is marking the company’s 20th anniversary by presenting several new dance works on the road and in their hometown.

Chavez was completely charged when he by phone from New York where he was conducting auditions at the Ailey Center this past Sunday. Currently they are in Philadelphia for the first time in five years as part of the Annenberg Center’s Dance Celebration (through January 16).

"The last year was actually pretty good for us," he said.

Chaves’s Philadelphia program includes his piece Forbidden Boundaries about his own artistic journey that was sandbagged in 2005. "This one is very personal. A choreographer can’t help putting his own life in his work, it always seeps in somewhere, but this is the first time I consciously made the decision to do it."

The choreographer is still recovering from major back surgery. "I had a spinal surgery and found out I had a disease of the spinal chord. So since then there has been a series of phases of recovery, emotional and physical and beyond that."

"Actually, working on the piece jump started me into my whole next level of recovery. I have found it makes people uncomfortable and exhilarated because. It goes into some taboo subjects, so people react and are touched by it. It’s not a downer piece though."

Chaves used new music from Philadelphia composer Evan Solot. "We worked together in 2006 for a huge piece called with the Chicago Children’s choir and he wrote all the music. I didn’t use one of the musical sections, so I had him redo that for this."

In Philly the company will also perform Chaves’ wildly popular Habaneras. Scored to 1950s big band music, it has become "our signature piece." Even though Chaves only spent the first six months of his life in Cuba, his parents kept him connected to Cuban culture and arts."

"My father was such a fan. The springboard for this piece was composer Ernesto Lecuona, who is Cuba’s Ravel. It does have vocal sections, which is so identified with Cuban music. It’s a really colorful piece that travels through a lot of sections. It celebrates the music of Cuba, not necessarily the dances of Cuba. It’s my interpretation of the music."

They are also performing Reality of a Dreamer by Sherry Zunker, scored to "Sweet Dreams" by the Eurythmics, is one of the company’s most popular works. "Actually for the anniversary she remade the piece for who the company is now and it’s called Evolution of a Dream.

Also on the program is choreographer Robert Battle’s solo piece performed to the music of Ella Fitzgerald that has yet to be performed in Chicago. "Robert’s choreography is so River North," Chavez said, expressing his affinity for Battle’s work..

Monique Haley, who studied dance at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts, returns as a dancer-choreographer with River North. "Monique is a nine year veteran and this is her final season. It’s called Uruhu, which means freedom in Swahili. She has beautiful Afro-Caribbean and jazz styles in it," he noted.