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River North Dance Chicago’s ‘Autumn Passion’ draws from many sources



Ashley Rolrehearses 'Get Out Ghost' River North Dance Chicago.

Ashley Roland rehearses "Get Out the Ghost" at River North Dance Chicago.

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Updated: November 8, 2013 3:36PM

What happens when a choreographer who ordinarily works with his or her own company is invited to do a guest stint with another company? Is there a culture clash, a perfect synchronicity, the birth of new ideas?

These questions came to mind while thinking about River North Dance Chicago’s fall engagement, “Autumn Passion,” a mixed repertory program of six works coming to the Harris Theater for Music and Dance.

The two world premieres on the bill are “Dawn,” by Kevin Iega Jeff (co-founder, artistic director and choreographer for Chicago’s Deeply Rooted Productions, a troupe that blends classical, contemporary and African-American dance traditions), and “Get Out the Ghost,” by Ashley Roland (a veteran of MOMIX Dance Theater who, since 1997, has run the Oregon-based contemporary dance troupe, BodyVox, which she co-founded with partner Jamey Hampton).

“I feel free from the stresses of being in my own company when I work with River North,” Jeff said. “I go into the studio fresher, with a bit more peace of mind.”

“Dawn,” for the company’s full roster of 12 dancers, is Jeff’s fourth work for the company and grew out of his thinking about “the slow awakening of humanity to what is going on with government and politics in this world, and at least some sense of a new enlightenment, even if we don’t necessarily act on it. It’s about a growing consciousness, and the need to pay closer attention.”

As for the musical ideas that began attaching themselves to the work: “I’ve always loved ‘Carmina Burana’ [Carl Orff’s cantata based on medieval poems], which was used as part of the soundtrack for the film ‘Glory,’ and was sung by the Boys Choir of Harlem. So I chose the ‘O Fortuna’ section of that work. And then I found some incredible music by film composer James Horner. I was intrigued by how these pieces both suggested ancient sounds, though one is more obviously classical, and the other contemporary. I turned to string music played by the Kronos Quartet to serve as a bridge, suggesting the move from darkness to light.”

“Get Out the Ghost,” Roland’s piece for six dancers, has a more psychological bent.

“It’s rooted in the concept that we all carry around loads of emotional baggage, old versions of our ‘self-history,’ ” she said. “As we progress through life we try to lighten ourselves and shed some of that baggage. You can look for a narrative in this piece, but it’s not necessary to find one in order to enjoy it. There also is a lot of challenging partnering and lifts.”

Roland’s eclectic choice of music began with work by Edgar Meyer, “one of the finest contemporary American composers and bassists, whose styles range from classical to bluegrass and jazz.” She also is using sections of Debussy’s “Children’s Corner,” played by Meyer and Bela Fleck, and music by film composer Thomas Newman.

Also on the program: Adam Barruch’s zany solo, “The Worst Pies in London” (to the Stephen Sondheim song from “Sweeney Todd”), performed for the first time by someone other than Barruch himself; Nejla Yatkin’s solo 2012 work “Renatus,” to an aria from Puccini’s “Tosca”; Daniel Ezralow’s fiercely physical urban meltdown, the 1988 “SUPER STRAIGHT is coming down…,” and artistic director Frank Chaves’ “Eva,” set to the haunting songs of the late songbird Eva Cassidy.

NOTE: The company’s annual gala begins at 6 p.m. Nov. 14 with a performance of the Jeff, Roland, Barruch and Chaves pieces followed by dinner and more at the Fairmont Chicago. Contact Paula Petrini Lynch at (312) 944-2888. At noon Nov. 15, River North will perform a family-friendly show, “Street Beat: Dancing Through the Decades” (at the Harris Theater; tickets are $16) exploring historical and social conditions of the 20th century by way of dance from the Roaring Twenties to the hip-hop ’90s.

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