The Philadelphia Inquirer Reviews River North Chicago Dance Company

January 16, 2010

Chicago dancers, Philly ties

By Merilyn Jackson

For The Inquirer

Sat. Jan. 16, 2010

There are reasons the 20-year-old River North Chicago Dance Company has a large Philadelphia following and draws appreciative audiences whenever it appears here, as it did Thursday at the Annenberg Center. Several members have local ties: Artistic director Frank Chaves trained and danced here in the '80s in the jazz-dance company Waves; Monique Haley, who performs this weekend in several pieces, including a work of her own, is a Philly native and University of the Arts grad; and well-known UArts teacher Jae Hoon Lim, a principal dancer with Koresh Dance Company, formerly danced with River North.

Chaves tapped Philadelphia composer Evan Solot to write the music that bookended his Forbidden Boundaries, a high point in a many-splendored evening. Here the dancers' sheer white blouses billowed like clouds that easily turned into restraints as partners yanked them down over one another's shoulders or bound their arms with the stretched sleeves. A trio with Michael Gross, Lizzie MacKenzie, and Ricky Ruiz, to music by Ryuchi Sakamoto, had MacKenzie gyrating between the men to free herself. Solot's music in the final section, "Confrontation," built to a dazzling climax as its dynamic percussive rhythms underscored the dancers' final rejection of their boundaries.

Monique Haley used Akoya Afrobeat's Fela Kuti music for her piece Uhuru and danced in it as well. Having once seen 16 of Fela's wives shake it to his music, I thought a bit more booty action would have given the piece better energy.

Robert Battle's Ella, to Fitzgerald's wild vocalizing of her most memorable songs, has become a favorite solo for several female dancers, and was performed by Sarah Levitt with total abandon at the Painted Bride last year. Thursday night, River North dancer Lauren Kias did a fine, if careful, job with the reckless piece, scatting her body just a beat behind Ella's trills.

The closer, Chaves' 2005 Habaneras, The Music of Cuba, took on a folklorico look with the women swishing their long skirts and impishly jumping into the men's arms in cross-legged sitting positions. In the section "Hasta Siempre," the six company men storm the stage, Jeff Wolfe's beautiful classical lines keeping it silken. The final section, "El Manisero" (The Peanut Vendor), has the women line-dancing the rumba to the famous song with its joyful trumpet wailing across the rhythm. The swaying hips below their elegant bustiers gave audiences yet another reason to follow River North whenever it comes to town.