“I was surprised, ” choreographer Ivan Perez said when I asked how it was to work with the dancers of River North Dance Chicago. “They’re very jazz-based and I was surprised how invested they were in learning this work and how they took to it. It’s great to work with companies well established in this vocabulary, but it can be more interesting to work with dancers looking to challenge themselves and do something new.”
Perez is an independent choreographer, born in Spain and residing in the Netherlands, where he has lived since his stint as a company member of Nederlands Dans Theater. He is in Chicago by invitation of Frank Chaves, artistic director of River North, which celebrates twenty-five years this fall. The invitation was essentially a cold call; Chaves found a clip from Perez’s “Flesh” on YouTube, and the thee minutes worth of duet he saw was enough to inspire Chaves to call up the young choreographer in The Hague and talk about a visit to set the piece on River North. “It was my first experience shopping online for a choreographer,” Chaves said, “and I scored.”
After seeing the opening-night performance of River North’s fall engagement, I couldn’t agree more with both assessments. Perez’s piece in four movements, created after the loss of both his parents when he was twenty-four years old, is an emotional masterwork, a beautifully crafted yet openly sweeping journey through a landscape of memory and passion. The dance is framed by the poem “The Knife” by WWII era poet Keith Douglas. Verses are heard over sections of the piece, which does not so much point at images in the poem as it does inform and deepen the sensations they invoke; we see souls spun in burbling eddies and tossed in torrential seas, figures emerge from blackness in golden light, like soft-focus memories. The aforementioned duet is unquestionably the center of the work. Though it was originally staged with both dancers topless, River North elected not to have Hayley Meier stripped to the waist. Be this a family-friendly compromise or a removal of a distraction matters not: the company members move as though they were born to this choreography. Perez’s endlessly rolling, spiraling, accelerating partner work is executed with the complete internal commitment and technical virtuosity of a world class company. “Flesh” is indeed a challenge in technique and emotional depth and River North meets it beautifully. (Sharon Hoyer)
At the Harris Theater, 205 East Randolph, (312)334-7777. Friday and Saturday, October 10 and 11 at 8pm. $30-$75.