Review- River North Dance Chicago

River North dance Chicago concert- March 2010- St. Louis-

‘A poem shouldn’t mean but be”

Is ‘art’ justified if it’s simply loved? Tons of people love twilight but I’m pretty sure most English majors or serious writers across the country hate it- or at least hate the success it receives –why does everyone insist on being served crap?

About a month ago the jazz company River North dance Chicago came to my hometown of Saint Louis. I had seen them perform once before and they were pretty amazing so I had high hopes for the show. It opened with a piece choreographed by Sherry Zunker who has had a diverse career choreographing for everything from contemporary companies to cruise ships. The piece was a good wake up call for the audience, with a lot of dancers onstage dancing all together to a high-energy pop song. I didn’t dislike it, I would just call it more ‘entertainment’ than ‘art’. Next was a structured improvisation solo work that didn’t move around the stage very much but was dynamic and surprising. I have a pretty good handle of dance ‘steps’ and while I caught things like a perfect quadruple pirouette in the midst, it looked much more -I hate to use this hackneyed word- organic rather than choreographed and was only  more engaging for it. The third piece was three men showing strength, rhythm, and versatility in almost primitive-like movement to loud Taiko drum music. This seems to be a big trend with jazz and contemporary companies these days. I don’t know who it originates with, but my guess is either Alonzo King or maybe Cedar lake. I have the feeling that the audience appreciated the obvious strength and stamina the men had, but perhaps made the mostly older crowd of the midwest a little uncomfortable. In all honesty, sometimes the choreography was so stylized that though they still looked great doing it, with three scantliy-clad men I was a little reminded of the SNL parody of Beyonce’s ‘Single Ladies’ video where Justin Timberlake and two other guys prance about in leotards and heels imitating the pop icon.  The most stunning piece of choreography and dancing I had seen in a long time was ‘Forbidden Boundaries’ choreographed by RNDC artistic director, Frank Chaves.  The piece was three movements, opening with what I can best describe as a ‘Tim Burton’ feel- eerie and melancholy. The dancers did intricate partnering in duets involving stretchy fabric somehow attatched to their otherwise very simple costumes while sharing practically no visual communication. To me, it looked as if each pair was representative of a single being fighting with their own fears or limitations, holding themselves back (in this case, often with the fabric). The second movement was a trio of two men and a woman centered at all times between the two and carried, flipped, manipulated by the fabric. It had a touch of cirque de soleil aerials but managed to not look ‘gimmecky’ or acrobatic. The three dancers managed to display beautiful lines, lyric movement quality, strength and grace through unconventional choreogrpahy and use of props. The effect was stunning. The third movement ended the piece and the first act with a sort of ‘battle’ between pairs contrasting the fluid quality and more balletic feel of the second movement with a more aggressive, finale that showed the dancers strong jazz training. It was incredibly touching and ultimately empowering. End act one.

Begin act two; the predominantly over 60 population of the saint Louis audience shuffled back in from the bathrooms and the curtain rose for three more pieces on the bill. I think there is little to say about any of these three. The opening piece was well danced, very contemporary, and had a very fitting title, ‘Suppose’- aptly named because I can only suppose what, if anything, the choroegrpaher was trying to SAY (and if I guessed I would probably be wrong). The next piece was a tango-style pas de deux (dance of two). Very nice, seen stuff like it before. Closing piece: a big cuban number complete with dance-team fouettes (the most commonplace trick for competitions) that I didn’t find challenging or even that exciting. I would have prefered just the second, third, and fourth piece and have called it a night.

Why was what I thought the best piece sandwiched between more accessible pieces- with a progression of challenging the audience to let us off easy by the end? It sort of felt like the parental routine of attempting to slip vegetables into your fussy kids by covering them in cheese or peanut butter.  It really frustrated me that what I found to be communicative, technical, and innovative wasn’t featured as the last impression to take way from the experience.

It seems smart for dance companies to include a range of work in a given show, like a buffet where the audience can pick and choose what to take away. Some can be over-analytical (like me, sometimes to my detriment) or just enjoy the pure entertainment factor. River North did an excellent job of providing a little of everything and all of it was danced well. Everyone is entitled to be their own critic and I stand firm in my judgement- twilight is poorly written, fast food is bad for you, and fouettes don’t add much artistically.  Feel free to disagree.

4 thoughts on “Review- River North Dance Chicago

  1. Hey now with the English majors and Twilight (I like how you kept twilight in lower case to emphasize your disdain)! I want to see a fouette before I pass judgment, but I can tell you this: Twilight IS entertaining, and sometimes the story is more important than the author’s writing style. The instant gratification in Twilight is MAGIC. Don’t sneeze on the truth! But this is just coming from one of the few English majors who has escaped being a complete book snob. I’m not sure if all that translates into dance.

    I think you showed us an interesting point by mentioning the SNL skit. SNL is (I believe) very much about entertainment, and the entertainment standards of today, as well as our reactions to various forms of popular entertainment, may inform our reactions to high art. What I want to know is if you think choreography is akin to an author’s writing style, and if so, who is the Stephanie Meyer of the dance world?

    • Twilight (thanks for the caps correction! even steph M. deserves an upper case)
      is the poor man’s Harry Potter- or should I say, the undersexed female’s HP.
      That being said, I have two of them, which I very much enjoyed reading…once. Plot loses its magic once you know what happens next and I just can’t stand the sappy dribble of dialogue or obnoxious protagonist. At least the movie serves up some visual distraction in the underage form of hunky shirtless guys. And Edward. Seriously, Rob, go to the gym. Even the sparkling in the sunlight doesn’t distract from his concave pecs.
      I think you are absolutely correct that entertainment standards inform reactions to ‘high art’. I was sort of trying to illustrate just that point by covering t’he progression of the dance concert- how the audience was gradually warmed up to the more abstract and in my opinion, artistic pieces. Thanks for beautifully articulating my point for me!
      The steph meyer (lower case!) of the dance world: My criteria would be someone who is very successful and relies on sexuality rather than true art form- things like dancers ripping each other’s tank tops off rather than using technique to demonstrate whatever choreogppahers sometimes rely on shock-value or wannabe avant garde nudity to express- I’ve seen some rather stupid numbers on ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ come out of Mandy Moore. I happen to often like themes of sexuality in dancing but when violence or sex overtake the movement it loses its merit. Turn, step step, jump, pause to slap girl in the face- kick ball change- does not count as effective or communicative choreography.

  2. Are you implying that Harry Potter is for average- to over-sexed females? If so, please elaborate. I personally think that HP is a little undersexed. I think Prof. McGonagall should’ve been bumping uglies with Prof. Flitwick from the start. Also, I think your pro-movie stance on the Twilight series is ridiculous. Viva la books, down with awkward acting that is only “enhanced” by nasty, overdramatic riffs of Muse on the soundtrack. BOO HISS!

    p.s. I would also argue that Twilight is not overtly sexual. It’s more about wanting sex than having it. Twilight became a huge sexfest after the first movie (I refuse to call it a film) was released. When this happened tween girls could finally fixate their Twilight induced sexual frustrations on some unfortunate young male actors. Those Edward posters…I’ve seen them. There are about 20 hanging over my 12 year old cousin’s bed. Ewwwwww.

  3. Twilight is nothing like Harry Potter except that both are series of books that were very popular and made lots of money and paraphernalia.

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