It’s been a while since I’ve seen River North Dance Chicago consistently. I’ve seen certain members perform in galas like Dance for Life, but haven’t watched an entire season recently. RivNo has always been known for its strong technique, athleticism and speed and the current crew definitely holds up, but Saturday’s program was hit or miss for me. While waiting for the show to begin, it started late because of the massive long lines at the box office (always a good sign), a colleague made an observation. “They don’t do slow,” he said. He was right. The opening number by Kevin Iega Jeff incorporated nice movement, but the barely there costuming kept my focus on the dancers extreme muscularity rather than their artistry. No one would ever claim these dancers are not in shape. Even the women had shredded abs. At times it was distracting (and, no, I’m not just jealous!) creating shortened lines and a general stiffness. Maybe the sheer speed of the dance was a factor too since there were quite a few times when the timing was off.
The next solo Beat, danced by powerhouse Christian Denice was, by itself, worth the price of admission. Having seen the piece performed years ago by petite firecracker Lara Tinari, I was impressed by how Denice took his large frame and made the partially-improvised solo his own pushing the limits of tempo, balance and space (the solo is performed in a downlit center spot). Strength, speed and control, thy name is Christian. The world premiere of Sidra Bell’s Risoluta showed promise with its intricate partnering and fast footwork. I’d like to see it again after the dancers have more time with it. There was so much going on and so quickly that it came off as under-rehearsed.
In the second act, Denice wows again, this time joined by Michael Gross (a doppelganger of RivNo alum Ruedi Arnold, at least from where I was sitting) and Ricky Ruiz. Choreographed by new Ailey director Robert Battle and set to pulsing percussive beats, Three was a frantic and funny technical feat reminiscent of 1988’s Wired (also in the RivNo rep). Lauri Stallings new work was quirky and fluid, just like the choreographer, and showcased the dancers’ sexy sides. Red-headed Hanna Brictson was a stand out.
The last piece, Forbidden Boundaries, by Artistic Director Frank Chaves was an all-white meditation on overcoming obstacles (namely ourselves) going for our dreams. Each dancer wore tiny costumes, wrapped in fabric bondage and a sheer shell with sleeves that were relentlessly used to hold or pull back the dancers. It was a bit gimmicky, but created some really nice images and again showed the company’s physical strength. The highlight of the four-movement dance was the trio Hidden Truth with Michael Gross and Ricky Ruiz literally making Lizzie MacKenzie fly. With extended sleeves used to suspend and fling her tiny frame about the stage, she looked at times like an albino bat desperately trying to escape capture, then alternately, a beautiful soaring dove. By the end of Boundaries, all the dancers escape their bonds by taking off the shirts and defiantly throwing them to the ground. Again, a bit cheesy, but the audience ate it up.
The second act was stronger and better rehearsed than the first. I would have liked to see a little more variety in tempo. Even Chavez’s pas, The Mourning, was so speedy that my colleague joked, “I think she died because it was so fast!” The dancers seemed to gain steam as they went along, ending with a take that attitude that had the crowd at its feet and wanting more.