River North Dance Company takes its name from a tony Chicago neighborhood bordering on Rush Street, the heart of the city's jazz, Dixieland and blues clubs. The co-directors of the 10-year-old company, Sherry Zunker Dow and Frank Chaves, offer a cocktail of jazz, club, ballet and modern dance. Yet no matter how intoxicating the mix gets, their 16 dancers take care to let their movements breathe, giving them a look of creamy elegance.
Zunker Dow set her Emmy Award-winning Reality of a Dreamer to the Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams." It's a deliciously sexy dance that quotes disco and ballet, yet retains its jazz-dance style. Chaves' Fixe is a lyrical ballet duet that offers a tender respite from the company's otherwise tangy dances of rhythmic precision. RNDC holds forth Friday night only at Chandler Center for the Arts.
If you're hungry for power, the Phoenix Symphony's Carmina Burana with Ballet Arizona, the ASU Choral Union and the Phoenix Boys Choir opens Friday, as well. The other day, Ballet Arizona's director of production, Donald Fassinger, fussed with a computer model of the stage at BAZ's studios. The logistics of massing those forces onstage looked like a war map. "This production [it was first performed here in 1995] has 220 people on the stage," he said as he showed how it would be restaged to accommodate the additional performers. "It's a nightmare."
Whether you know the work or not, you've probably heard the carmina -- in everything from car commercials to movie battle scenes. Carl Orff premièred his thunderous choral work with its rudimentary rhythms in 1937 during the Third Reich's march to war. As if oblivious to the militarism of the era, or perhaps because of it, Orff reached back in time to a 13th-century Benedictine manuscript of ribald poems for source material for the carmina, or songs. It's a boisterous work that lends itself well to dance.
Several choreographers have mounted full-length ballets on Carmina. Ballet Arizona has the distinction of having Ernst Uthoff's version. Uthoff and his wife, Lola Botka, both members of the famed Jooss Ballet, left Germany during World War II for Chile, where Uthoff created his 1953 work. With its clean lines of German Expressionism, the ballet's movement is as spare as a Bauhaus chair. But Ernst blended in folk movements that give it an endearing earthiness. Ernst Uthoff was the father of BAZ's exiting director Michael Uthoff. Uthoff fils gives the work a loving but rigorous reading. The three-day run ends with a Sunday matinee.
Personally, I'm craving Saturday night's presentation of Do Brasil, a Capoeira-inspired spectacle at Scottsdale Center for the Arts' outdoor space. Capoeira (say "kah-po-air-ah") is the Portuguese word for a 400-year-old martial art evolved in Brazil by African slaves. Though technically not a dance, it is shrouded in the myth that it is disguised as dance. And the pulsing rhythms of the berimbau that command the rodas (like rounds in a boxing match) impose a dancelike formalism onto the performers' improvisation. Ataques (like a thrust in fencing) and take-downs are hallmarks of the form. Modern choreographers have been studying it for more than 20 years, and you may recognize how the seamlessness of the moves has influenced Western dance. There may also be examples of the very lethal and low-to-the-ground Capoeira performed by Angolan slaves.
But troupe director Amen Santo hails from Bahia, where the form developed into a "ritual dance fight game," and is faster and more aggressive than traditional Angolan style. Santo is a high-caliber capoeirista who's been performing in the U.S. since 1986. He bases his company of a dozen or more dancers and musicians in Santa Monica, California. The program includes a dance that subverts the symbols of an imposed religion and named after the banned African religion Candomble; the raucous Samba Reggae danced at Carnival; and the comical Samba de lata.
What's the best thing about consuming all this dance? It's not fattening.
River North Dance Company performs at 8 p.m. Friday, November 5, at Chandler Center for the Arts, 250 North Arizona Avenue. For ticket information, call 480-782-2680. Carmina Burana is performed at 8 p.m. Friday, November 5; 8 p.m. Saturday, November 6; and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, November 7, at Symphony Hall, 225 East Adams. For ticket info, call 602-262-7272 (Phoenix Civic Plaza) or 480-503-5555 (Dillard's). Do Brasil performs at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, November 6, at Scottsdale Center for the Arts, 7380 East Second Street. Call 480-994-2787 (SCA) or 480-784-4444 (Ticketmaster) for details.