The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

January 21, 2010

River North dancers have give-and-take with audience



Frank Chaves, artistic director and choreographer for River North Chicago Dance, wants his audiences to experience all the defining elements of the dance company.

“The audience will not only see River North, it will feel River North,” Chaves said.

Nothing thrills Chaves more than sending out that energy into the audience and have the audience send it right back to the stage.

“It brings all the emotion to the forefront and tears down that fourth wall between the audience and the dancers on a stage,” Chaves said.

The company will perform at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 6 at Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center, 450 Schoolhouse Road in Richland Township.

Every Chaves performance blends skilled and emotional dancers, stimulating music and bold choreography.

“People have come up to me and told me they have felt things during the performance that touches their lives in ways that they never have expected,” Chaves said.

He said his Cuban ancestry has had a major influence on how he stages a show.

“I was a musician before I became a dancer,” he said. “My Cuban roots instilled in me a romance and passion that translates into syncopated rhythms.”

River North Chicago Dance Company is celebrating its 20th anniversary with a 12-city national tour.

The jazz-based contemporary company boasts that it embodies a true flavor of “Americana,” specializing in showcasing the work of established and emerging American choreographers.

Founded in 1989, River North Chicago has established itself as one of Chicago’s leading dance companies, and one of the most popular national repertoire companies.

“This is a versatile group that is hot, sassy and daring in presenting new artistic works from Broadway to ballroom, jazz to contemporary and everything in between,” said Michael Bodolosky, arts center executive director. “We will have a jitterbug master call at 11 a.m. Feb. 6, which is free and open to the public.”

Chaves assumed sole artistic directorship of River North Chicago in 2001.

“Coming up with something original is as difficult as trying to add one more letter to the alphabet,” Chaves said.

He recently premiered his ground-breaking piece, “Forbidden Boundaries,” which will be performed in Johnstown.

“Forbidden Boundaries” addresses his own artistic journey that was derailed in 2005 when a cyst on his spine was removed, he said.

The procedure altered his physical capabilities.

“I had spinal surgery and found out I had a disease of the spinal cord,” he said.

“Since then, there have been phases of recovery – emotional and physical.”

“Forbidden Boundaries” also delves into taboo subjects.

“I have found it makes people uncomfortable, so that tells me it’s working,” Chaves said.

He initially conceptualized the piece in 2006 when he was creating “Underground Movements,” and the dancers utilize an unusual prop – a stretchy shirt – to portray internal struggle in four sections: Invitation, Hidden Truth, Harmony and Confrontation.

The shirts can be twisted into ropes that suggest straitjackets or leashes as the bound dancers strain to escape.

Chaves said one of the most passionate of the dance’s four sections is a trio of dancers, two men and one woman, that performs Hidden Truth.

“This is my favorite section, and it connects with so many people,” Chaves said. “The costuming keeps the people on the edge of their seats.”

The piece explores the ways we engage, ignore and occasionally live at peace with inhibitions, he said.

Imaginative props, rigorous athleticism, high-energy ensemble sections and an eye-pleasing ending highlight the piece.

Confrontation builds to an incredible climax as its dynamic percussive rhythms underscored the dancers’ final rejection of their boundaries.

“I have Harmony in there because we can find peace within ourselves, too,” Chaves said. “But we often know what we need to do and just can’t do it.”

Tickets are from $10 to $28 and are available from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays at the box office or by calling 269-7200, (800) 846-2787 or by visiting


What: River North Chicago Dance.

Where: Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center, 450 Schoolhouse Road, Richland Township.

When: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 6.

Tickets: Available from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays at the box office or by calling 269-7200, (800) 846-2787 or visit

Cost: $10, $26, $28.