In April, the dancers of River North Dance Chicago set off on a five-week, 18-city tour of Russia that included spotty Internet connections, varying quality of theaters and the occasional nine-hour, dirt-road bus ride. Due to physical issues resulting from decades of dancing and spinal surgery, artistic director Frank Chaves stayed behind, sending executive director Gail Kalver in his stead. “I’ve traveled all over the world touring, but I’m missing my one and only trip to Russia,” Chaves recently lamented over the phone.
The company returned to Chicago on May 21 and, after just a few days off to recuperate, started rehearsing for its Tuesday 5 performance at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. The city’s summer-long Even More in the Park series features free concerts ranging from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to the Lyric Opera to Broadway in Chicago. This year’s dance performances include a live simulcast of the Paris Opéra Ballet’s Giselle at the Harris Theater (June 27) and the Chicago Dancing Festival’s “Celebration of Dance” (August 25). River North’s “World Class, Home Grown” will be the first dance concert to hit the outdoor stage this season.
In addition to the performance, the company will present Mayor Rahm Emanuel with the Dream Maker Award for promoting dance in Chicago. “We give out this award to people in the community that really make a difference,” Chaves says. “Certainly with Mayor Emanuel and how he wants to make Chicago the number-one city in dance in the country—if that’s what he wants to do, then he’s our dream maker.”
“World Class, Home Grown” marks River North’s full-evening debut on the Pritzker Pavilion stage, though the company performed there as part of last summer’s Chicago Dancing Festival. The program will feature repertory pieces hot off the Russian tour (Chaves’s The Mourning, set to the Russian folk song “Nie Kantshaietsa,” was a huge hit with Russian audiences), plus some of the company’s larger works.
“I wanted to make sure I filled the stage as beautifully as I could, taking into account what the venue is like, what we’d like to perform and the kind of exposure we’re going to get,” Chaves says. “If we can get 4,000 people there, that’s a lot of people who have probably never seen the company before, so we wanted to be sure to do the things that we do best.”
Signature works that show off the company’s athletic, emotional style, such as Sherry Zunker’s Evolution of a Dream, Chaves’s Cuban-flavored Habaneras and his duet The Mourning, will be performed along with Sidra Bell’s contemporary piece Risoluta, Kevin Iega Jeff’s Sky, and Short and Sweet, a mash-up of three duets: Robert Battle’s Ella, Chaves’s At Last and Ashley Roland’s Beat. New faces will appear in old favorites as Ahmad Simmons takes his turn at Beat, a piece that’s become synonymous with former River North powerhouse dancer
“I think our repertoire lends itself so beautifully to this venue,” Chaves says. “We were trying to figure out how to let people know we are true through-and-through Chicago. We were born here, we dance here, we represent Chicago.”
River North Dance Chicago performs at the Pritzker Pavilion on Tuesday 5.