Jazz legend Miles Davis would have celebrated his 85th birthday this year, and the Wharton Center for Performing Arts has co-commissioned a show with the Auditorium Theater of Roosevelt University in Chicago to celebrate his music.
The River North Chicago Dance Company will premiere its performance set to a collection of original Davis recordings at the Wharton Center on Thursday, March 31 at 7:30 p.m.
Founded more than 20 years ago, River North is a jazz-based contemporary company featuring 13 dancers. The company’s Artistic Director Frank Chaves said he was excited to have the opportunity to choreograph to Davis because it brings him back to his jazz roots.
Chaves was interested in giving Davis’ music a visual element. Jazz music, he says, is often improvisational. Sometimes audiences cannot relate to jazz because it might not have a melody. Putting steps to Davis’ music helped Chaves hear the music in a different way.
“It will make you listen and make you hear things differently than if you were just listening to the music by itself,” he said.
Chaves hopes the show will expose Davis’ music to a lot of new people.
“You don’t hear Miles too often on the radio these days unless it’s a real hard jazz station or something,” he said. “So introducing a whole new generation to Miles Davis I think would be great.”
Although Chaves plays the saxophone and has known his favorite Davis songs for a long time, he admits that he was not well-versed in Davis’ entire library. So, Chaves took some time to immerse himself in Davis’ work.
“That was quite a challenge. It’s very extensive,” he said. “I will say that I never thought of his music as overly-danceable.”
Yet, Chaves found four selections that he thinks work well for dance: So What, Bitches Brew, Blue in Green and Half Nelson. The songs range from upbeat to slow.
“I do feel there is a really nice representation of him and his music,” Chaves said. “As different as you can get from one musician, at the same time lending itself very nicely to being able to choreograph to it and have a nice, full dance piece that makes sense.”
River North performances generally show seven to 10 pieces per night, and the Davis piece, which is approximately 20 minutes long, will be added to the company’s repertoire.
Chaves hopes that each audience member can experience something of their own by watching the pieces. He hopes the audience will leave with a love for Davis and an urge to dance. He also anticipates the audience will go through different experiences for each piece.
“I feel like we kind of run the whole spectrum of human emotion throughout our program,” he said. “So, if you leave feeling satisfied that you’ve experienced that as well, and that you’ve had some sort of escape for two hours — that’s what I’m hoping will happen.”
River North Chicago Dance Company
The Wharton Center for Performing Arts
on Michigan State University’s Campus
7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 31
For box office and ticket information, visit www.whartoncenter.com.