River North Dance Chicago (RNDC) performed their fall engagement at the Harris Theater over the weekend with a rep of seven diverse dances. The company opened with what has become its signature piece, Sherry Zunker’s Evolution of a Dream. Strong and consistent, it was the perfect opener for the show. If you’re familiar with RNDC, you noticed quite a few unfamiliar faces. Four new company dancers took the stage on Friday night with another one out due to a broken foot. Dream and the ball piece (Charles Moulton’s Nine Person Precision Ball Passing), which since they don’t move from the waste down borderlines on dance for me, were the cleanest pieces in the show. A lovely trio in Al Sur Del Sur featuring Jessica Wolfrum, Tucker Knox and Ahmad Simmons and the ever-stunning Train solo by Hanna Brictson were other stand outs. Spotty unison, stumbles, wobbles and a handful of missed lifts had me witnessing an extreme rarity: RNDC had an off night.
I’ve been watching RNDC deliver strong, solid seemingly perfect performances for almost 15 years, so the small flubs took me by surprise. This is no condemnation of their talents – they are multitude – but this wasn’t their best showing. The much-anticipated company premiere of Daniel Ezralow’s SUPER STRAIGHT is coming down opened the second half of the show (the perfect spot for it). For those of us in the audience that had seen the original, and there were many, just hearing the opening note and seeing the hanging bags with the dancers inside brought back a flood of memories. Fair or not, the RNDC dancers were dancing with the ghosts of the original cast with them on the stage. A dapper Michael Gross in his suit brought Ron De Jesús (who was in the audience) rolling across the stage. Wolfrum in her black dress had Sandi Cooksey defying gravity, hovering inches above the floor. Twenty two years after the premiere, these five dancers were bringing back a beloved (by many, especially me) piece and I wanted them to BRING IT! On Friday, it seemed they brought a little and saved some for later. Perhaps the excitement of seeing it for the very first time back in ’89 helped to create the illusion that vaulted the original cast to rock star status in the dance scene? Maybe it was the difference between learning it fresh and resetting it? It could any number of reasons that it didn’t hold the same sway with me this time. I have no doubt that RNDC will continue to grow and evolve with this work, but this time out, it didn’t live up to the hype. Especially my own.