This weekend River North Dance Chicago (RNDC) takes the Harris Theater stage for its annual Valentine’s weekend engagement. Love is… features six pieces including two world premieres, Contact-Me by Italian choreographer and director of Spellbound Dance Company Mauro Astolfi and The Good Goodbyes by RNDC director Frank Chavez. Revivals of audience favorites Ella, Risoluta, Sentir em Nós and Al Sur Del Sur round out the program.
The company returned from an extended tour of Virginia last week and went right into rehearsals for the Valentine show. After a few failed attempts at scheduling an interview with veteran dancer Lauren Kias, we ended up doing a quick Q&A via email. Here is an edited version of our “chat”.
How was the tour?
One of the many things I love about this job is the national and international traveling we are asked to do. Touring with the company is much like traveling with the circus. You have a group of dancers very diverse with big personalities performing on the road together for up to a month at a time. You can be on the road so long and travel to so many places you often will wake up and not know what city you are in. We were just in Virginia for about 10 days. We had performances in Lexington, Fairfax and Richmond. On this particular tour I was responsible for warming up the company before the shows. This usually entails teaching a ballet class that will get the dancers on their leg and help set them up for a long day in the theater. This responsibility comes with a fair amount of stress because dancers are very particular on what they like to do before a show. I was up for the challenge and did the best I could.
You’re in your seventh year with RNDC. Was the company always on your radar?
I first saw River North in high school when they were on tour in my home town of Indianapolis. I remember loving the company immediately and keeping them in my radar from that moment on. While attending Butler University, I participated in their summer intensive program. I had such a positive experience that I made it a goal of mine to become a member of the company. After that summer I moved to Chicago and Frank asked me to be a company apprentice. After two years as an apprentice I was given a spot in the company.
Why is it a good fit for you?
River North is a good fit for me because the rep is so versatile. I love to dance as many different styles as I can. We get to work with a number of different choreographers every year that create very diverse pieces. The variety that we experience keeps our minds and body’s fresh and growing in this ever changing art form.
What is the most exciting part of dancing with RNDC and what is the most challenging?
It’s an exciting time to be in River North. There has and continues to be a lot of international touring gigs for the company. In the last couple years we have traveled to Germany and Switzerland twice for three weeks of touring. Last summer we performed on an ocean front stage at an International dance festival in Busan, South Korea. We are currently in the process of organizing a month long tour to Russia with as many as twenty shows. I love to travel and see the world and I am very fortunate that my job can take me on so many adventures. The most challenging part of being in this company, or any company for that matter, is staying injury free and staying in the best shape that you can. While at home we have all of the resources to help us stay healthy and injury free. Most of the time when we travel we don’t have access to physical therapists or a proper gym. You have to rely on yourself and the support of your fellow dancers to maintain good habits and injury prevention to stay as healthy as we can.
What will you be dancing in the upcoming show?
In this weekend’s ‘Love Is…’ Valentine’s performance I will be performing four very different pieces. The first is a solo choreographed by Robert Battle entitled ‘Ella’. The second is the world premier of ‘Contact-Me’, choreographed by Mauro Astolfi artistic director of Spellbound Dance Company in Rome, Italy. ‘Contact-Me’ connects the dancers in intense relationships of intertwining movements to the music of Jon Hopkins and the Italian Cellist Giovanni Sollima. I will also be performing in another premiere, this one by our very own artistic director Frank Chaves entitled ‘The Good Goodbyes’. Mr. Chaves has teamed up with Josephine Lee, Artistic Director of the Chicago Children’s Choir, who has written an original composition for the new work. Lee will be performing live with the company on the Friday and Sunday performances. Finally, we are closing the show with a sultry suite of Argentinean tangos choreographed by Sabrina and Ruben Veliz entitled ‘Al Sur Del Sur’.
Tell me about your solo Ella. What was it like working with Robert Battle?
‘Ella’ is a high energy comical solo set to Ella Fitzgerald scatting. This piece is by far the fastest movement I have ever done that has everything and the kitchen sink. Complete with quick articulated movements, a little tumbling, and Battle’s legendary “falls” that make your bones ache. A couple of us in the company have come up with the term “Battle wounds” which is something you require from doing Robert Battles movement. I love working with Robert Battle. He has a wonderful sense of humor and it takes center stage in this solo. He makes you want to push yourself beyond your limits and at the end of the day you end up surprising yourself.
Ok, Charles Moulton’s ball piece: really hard, fun or a just a pain in the ass?
Hahahaha! All three! Charles Moulton’s ball piece was about as fun as a ten car pileup on the way to a wedding where you rear ended the bridal party. In all seriousness, I had a great time with this challenge. We had a little less than two weeks of learning patterns different types of passes, as well as run drills for what to do when you’ve dropped your ball. If you happened to fumble a ball, you had two spare behind your back secured by a cummerbund that you would whip out in a Billy-the-Kid fashion. I am happy to say that River North was up for Charles Moulton’s challenge and answered by not dropping a single ball at our first attempt on the Harris stage under the hot lights.
River North Dance Chicago presents Love is… Feb 10 & 11 at 8pm, Feb 12 at 3pm
Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph. Tickets are $30-$75. Call 312.334.7777 or visit harristheaterchicago.org
Saturday, Feb 11 there is a post-show party with drinks and desserts, where you can mingle with the dancers. Tickets are $25.