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Eight Forty-Eight

Romantic Dance

Dance critic Lucia Mauro previews upcoming dance performances that have a romantic side to them. Lucia tells us whether romantic shows by the Joffrey Ballet and River North Chicago will fill you with "TLA," or "Love Bites."

Every time I see a performance by River North Chicago Dance Company, the word passion comes to mind. And whenever I talk with artistic director Frank Chaves, I'm struck by his unbridled passion for dance. So it's a natural progression for River North to present a Valentine's weekend concert.

River North is known for its emotion-driven choreography exploring the many sides of love and relationships so it's an ideal choice for one of the most popular date nights of the year. But don't expect a fizzy dance cocktail of romantic bliss. River North is more like a sensual dessert of red wine and dark chocolate. Frank Chaves, who loves choreographing dramatic duets, will premiere “Sentir em Nos” (“Even for Us”), sung in Portuguese by Dulce Pontes and Andrea Bocelli. It's a tormented work in which the dancers fight to preserve their love even through hard times.

The partnering is so tightly connected that the dancers seem to be swirling around like the eternal lovers Paolo and Francesca in Dante's Divine Comedy. They can't let go of each other. Frank admits to being consumed by the music, especially one line that translates as “the tears of my love.” The message is powerful: the belief that love will prevail even during those shaky times when a relationship is being tested.

Frank follows this up with a lighter, more theatrical piece for six dancers, “Tuscan Rift.” He imagines three couples somewhere in a moonlit piazza in Tuscany breaking into dance to the breezy music of French composer Rene Aubry. At one point, the alternative music of Andrew Bird invades their space and changes the shape of their movement. It's a fun fantasy piece that plays with musical styles.

Company member Monique Haley debuts a high-energy finale. Called “Uhuru,” which means freedom in Swahili, it's a percussive, open-hearted dance that celebrates freedom in its many forms. River North Chicago performs February 13 and 14 at the Harris Theater in Chicago's Millennium Park at 205 E. Randolph.

The Joffrey Ballet also has the many dimensions of love on its mind for its winter concert. “Kettentanz” is late artistic director Gerald Arpino's personal valentine to the city of Vienna. It's a confectionery treat, set to Strauss waltzes. The dancers luxuriate in the formal sweep of the grand ballrooms of Old Vienna. George Balanchine's “Hand of Fate” duet is also set in a ballroom. But this one is haunted.

A girl attending her first dance is met by a strange figure in the shadows. It turns out to be the specter of something brooding and mysterious – perhaps lost innocence, even death. On a lighter note, the Joffrey is premiering a little jewel of a piece: Tom Ruud's “Mobile.” Ruud was inspired by the kinetic sculptures of Alexander Calder, and transforms three dancers into the quiet energy of a mobile. A man balances two women, who slowly shift the equilibrium.

Artistic director Ashley Wheater describes it as meditative. The gentle mood won't last for long though. The Joffrey closes each performance with Vaslav Nijinsky's “The Rite of Spring,” a revolutionary contemporary ballet set to Stravinsky's dissonant score. It deals with the sacrifice of a maiden whose death is meant to bring the arrival of spring to a primitive, pagan Russia. No surprise it caused a riot when it premiered in Paris in 1913. Today, the arresting music and movement won't cause such a stir. But “The Rite of Spring” has not lost its radical edge. Audiences should brace themselves for a provocative ride.

The Joffrey Ballet performs February 18-March 1 at Chicago's Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Parkway.

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