River North Dance Chicago’s Celebratory Fall Engagement



If you haven’t seen River North Dance Chicago perform – this is your chance. This Saturday, their sole performance this season will showcase works spanning the history of the company featuring classics, signature group pieces, stunning duets, superhuman solos, and the powerhouse precision technique of their 11 dancers, for which they are well known worldwide. With the future and direction of the troupe unclear – they are launching a search for new Executive and Artistic Directors – one thing is certain: for this one night, we celebrate the history, dancers, leadership, choreography and incomparable energy that is River North.


Artistic Director Frank Chaves retires this weekend leaving an impressive legacy after 23 years at the helm. Diagnosed with a degenerative spinal cord condition (syringomyelia) ten years ago, he has courageously continued leading the group, this past year even choreographing a brand new work from his wheelchair. He cites many highlights including working as co-director with Sherry Zunker (a meant-to-be partnership), an international touring schedule, “getting downtown” performing at the Harris Theater and ultimately the Auditorium Theatre, and of course, the generations of dancers that created so many memories and were an integral ingredient to the company’s success.


Although Chaves created an impressive 25 works for the company during his tenure, selecting which pieces to present for his farewell turned out to be fairly easy. “I wanted to remind people why they fell in love with River North in the first place,” he said. “This program is filled with so much raw emotion and beauty. I wanted to create a really vibrant program with a great soundtrack that makes you feel something. I want people not only to see River North, but to feel River North.” Signature group pieces by Chaves include Love Will Follow (romantic), Temporal Trance (jazzy, athletic), and Cuban-flavored Habaneras. Also on the program are audience favorites like Zunker’s classic The Man That Got Away performed by Lauren Kias (retiring after 10 years with Rivno), the trio A Mi Manera (My Way) by Zunker, Ginger Farley and Kevin Iega Jeff; and Randy Duncan’s Turning Tides, which Chaves considers to be his best, most powerful work.


Rounding out the special program is Beat, a structured improv piece by Ashley Roland usually performed as a solo, but tripled to have three people dancing it simultaneously; a solo excerpt from Robert Battle’s Train, performed by petite phenom Hanna Brictson; and Renatus, a gorgeous solo created on Jessica Wolfrum in 2012 by Nejla Yatkin. “That’s the icing on the cake of my career,” said Wolfrum, who is retiring after 14 years with the company. Performing in six of the nine pieces of the evening, she is ending with a bang. “I’m going out dancing my butt off,” said Wolfrum. “I’ve gotten a taste of so many different styles from different choreographers. I’ve done the whole gamut of dance. I’m very proud of that.”


Wolfrum said the show is a full-circle moment for her, because many of the pieces being performed are from her first year in the company when she was just 21-years-old. “It’s very old school River North, which I love. I feel like I could dance for another 14 years, but I’m excited about doing something else.” She’s not sure what that something else is outside of her upcoming wedding and plans to start a family. She also considers the many dancers she has worked with at River North part of her family and Chaves a mentor and friend. “His support and passion are endless,” she said. “He’s given me the chance to explore. I’ve gotten a taste of so many different styles from different choreographers. I’m very proud of that. I’m very blessed.”


After a career as a dancer, choreographer and director that spans 36 years, Chaves has a right to be emotional. “It’s a little sad and bittersweet, but I’m happy with the decision. I want to dedicate myself full-time to my health and figure out what is the best quality of life that I can have. I feel like I did everything I wanted to do with the company. It’s time for some new blood, some fresh energy. I can’t wait to see what happens with River North, to see who steps in and where it goes from here.”


River North Dance Chicago performs at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Pkwy., Saturday, October 3 at 7:30 PM. Tickets are $28-$68 and can be purchased by calling 312.341.2300 or at the Auditorium Box Office.


Tickets to the post-performance cast party at Fainman Lounge (430 S, Michigan Ave.) are $100 and can be purchased at rivernorthchicago.wufoo.com/forms/rivno-cast-party.