Seeing River North Dance Chicago (RNDC) at the Auditorium Theatre felt a little bizarre. Like a buffalo in the Amazon, the ornately dressed Auditorium isn’t RNDC’s natural habitat. Nonetheless, a jubilant and considerably large crowd gathered for a one-night-only effort from a company known for its fierce technique, athleticism, and tight ensemble dancing. By those standards, River North definitely delivered, but this nameless program was a mishmash of previous works that didn’t have an apparent reason to be together on an evening.
Three of five pieces on the bill were revivals of choreography by Artistic Director Frank Chaves – the other two by guest choreographers Kevin Iega Jeff and Mauro Astolfi. Jeff’s Dawn showed the most promise in terms of intention and consistency of movement, and his relentless, exhausting choreography shows off the dancers exceptional talent and stamina. Astolfi’s Contact-Me, on the other hand, felt confused. The sometimes hip-hop, sometimes contemporary dance is set mostly to a score that sounds something like dubbstep. That would be fine, were the women not wearing pink flowy dresses. Though the piece had some stand out moments, there were too many ideas for a cohesive piece to emerge. The end featured a lovely duet set to a cello serenade – the first moment of clarity in the piece – and that I could have watched all night.
Given the declining health of Frank Chaves and an open Executive Director’s seat, it’s not surprising to see a smorgasbord of older works in this spring program, but one can’t help but think that this once mighty company is losing its identity. One fact is undeniable: the dancers and the dancing from RNDC are exquisite. They do whatever is asked of them, and do it extremely well. But new, promising companies are emerging in Chicago, and with little direction coming from the top tier, it’s hard to anticipate where River North may go from here.