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Dancin' Feats
by Eric Eatherly
2008-02-13

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Monique Harris of River North Dance Company.

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Looking to impress your Valentine with something that is fun, romantic and cultural? Then look no further than River North Chicago Dance Company's winter concert this weekend, Feb. 15-16, at the Harris Theatre for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph.

River North is a jazz-based company that has been wowing audiences locally and nationally for 19 years with its impeccable technique, wide-ranging choreography and passionate performances. The company's Valentine's weekend engagement offers seven pieces, two of which are world premieres. Though some of the work is romantically inclined, audiences won't see one sugary love duet after another. Frank Chaves, artistic director of the company, explained, 'The pieces on the program are still a part of the Valentine's celebration in terms of passion. It's a great opportunity to share a couple of hours with someone that you really feel passionate about.'

One of the premieres will be Between Three, by Chicago choreographer Julia Rhoads. A silky piece danced by three women, Rhoads explores the idea of a journey. With a musical score that ranges from melancholy music box melodies to harder, industrial sounds, Rhoads weaves the dancers through patterns of light jumps, idiosyncratic arms gestures and long, extended legs with gently bent elbows to soften the dancers' expansive shapes. Though Rhoads' work has perhaps the most modern-dance feel of River North's current production, it adds diversity to the line-up without feeling out of place. 'What really brings [ Between Three ] into the River North aesthetic is the music, the relationship between the dancers and the music that you're hearing,' said Chaves.

River North's other premiere is by a new choreographer to the company, Robert Battle of New York's Battleworks Dance Company. Whereas Rhoads' work is meditative and fluid, Battle's piece comes from the opposite angle, offering pulse-pounding, high-octane dancing from beginning to end. The new work, Train, is accompanied by an all-percussion score by Les Tambours du Bronx, which sets the tone for the dancing rich in speed and intensity, with the dancers emphasizing the rhythm with various body parts, including heads, arms, feet and ribs. The choreography, which blends modern dance with street funk and African elements, includes many instances of the dancers throwing themselves to the ground in complex falling patterns, which Battle enjoys for the aesthetic value as well as the metaphorical. 'Falling and recovering is a part of life,' Battle said. Train's infectious energy will undoubtedly have the audience dancing along in their seats.

Also on the program will be Ahimsa, by choreographic dynamo Lauri Stallings; The Box, a dramatic solo created by Harrison McEldowney; and three pieces by Chaves, including the all-male Take a Seat; At Last, the most romantic work in the program set to the love song of the same title by Etta James; and Habaneras, The Music of Cuba. For Chaves, who was born in Cuba and raised in the United States, Habaneras takes him back to his childhood and his father's passion for music. Set to six short pieces by Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona, Habaneras uses contemporary movement to capture the Cuban appreciation for heritage and love of life.

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River North Chicago's concert will be a show for everyone to enjoy and a celebration of partnership, love and excitement. 312-334-7777; $25-$50.

Also coming up:

Second Floor Dance, a division of the HouseHold Arts Collective, launches the Independent DanceMakers Series with an inaugural concert Feb. 15-17 that showcases choreographers from across the country. The concert features two original works each from Paige Cunningham ( Chicago ) , Debra Silveus ( Indianapolis ) and Daman Harun ( New York ) . Link's Hall, 3435 N. Sheffield, 2nd floor; 773-281-0824; $12-$15.

The Joffrey Ballet celebrates the 100th anniversary of the birth of choreographer Antony Tudor with a special Antony Tudor Centennial program, Feb. 20-March 2 at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress. Known for incorporating psychology into his ballets, Tudor created complex, multi-dimensional dance characters. The repertory will include Lilac Garden, Dark Elegies and Offenbach in the Underworld. 312-902-1500; $25-$140.

The Dance Center of Columbia College, 1306 S. Michigan, hosts modern ensemble The Dance COLEctive Feb. 21-23. Led by Artistic Director Margi Cole, the group presents 'Second Journeys,' an evening featuring Cole's Written on the Body, a dance that explores duality by bringing to life literary icons the Bronte Sisters. Also on the program is choreography by Colleen Halloran, Jennifer Kayle and Ellie Klopp. 312-344-6600; $24-$28.

The Joel Hall Dancers ( JHD ) , an urban jazz company led by dance legend Joel Hall, celebrates the life and music of Nina Simone with three special programs Feb. 22-23. Feb. 22 marks the 'Nina Simone and Friends' program, featuring JHD II and JHD 1511 ( Hall's junior companies ) as well as Michigan-based guest company Eisenhower Dance Ensemble. On Feb. 23, there is a matinee performance for kids and parents called 'Nina Simone and Your Family' and an evening performance of In The Shadow of Nina Simone, an evening-length work choreographed by Hall and Paul Sanasardo. Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport; 773-935-6860; $10-$35.

Lastly, Thodos Dance Chicago presents its 2008 Winter Concert Feb. 29-March 2 at the Athenaeum Theatre. The line-up consists of Nine, a world premiere for 10 dancers by Cliff Dwellers Award winner Brock Clawson; three company premieres, including Camarilla by company member Christine Rohde, Within Reach by company member Hillary Murphy and Cascade by Founder/Artistic Director Melissa Thodos; and reprises of work by Thodos, Lucas Crandall, Amy Ernst and Tony Award winner Ann Reinking. 312-902-1500; $15-$40.

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