|Artistic Staff & Leadership | Company Members | Board of Directors | Staff
Photos by Jennifer Girard
Frank Chaves (Miami, FL) joined River North Dance Chicago (RNDC) in 1993 as Associate Director, became Co-Artistic Director with Sherry Zunker in 1994, and in May 2001, Chaves assumed sole artistic directorship of RNDC. Since then, he has created over 20 works in the company's repertoire. An international choreographer and teacher, Chaves has also created numerous works for other companies including Spectrum Dance Theatre, Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago, Point Park College for the Performing Arts, Barat Repertory Dance Company, Kaleidoscope Dancers, Pori Dance Company (Finland), and the National Choreographers Initiative (twice invited). Chaves' theatrical commissions include work for Steppenwolf Theatre and the Cleveland Playhouse. As a performer, Chaves has danced with Ballet Concerto of Miami, New York's Ballet Hispanico, Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago, and six years with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. In 2000, Chaves received a Ruth Page Dance Achievement Award for Mission, co-created with Sherry Zunker, Co-Artistic Director Emerita of River North Chicago, in honor of the Company's 10th anniversary. He has also been recognized with a 2008 Choo-San Goh Award for Choreography from the Choo-San Goh & H. Robert Magee Foundation for Tuscan Rift. Chaves is an Adjunct Professor of Dance for Western Michigan University.
Gail Kalver (Chicago, IL) joined the company in 2009, which marked her 40th year working in the Chicago arts community. Previously, she was an arts management consultant and project manager, whose client roster included the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, Chicago Human Rhythm Project, Concert Dance, Inc., Dance Affiliates of Philadelphia, Ensemble Español, The Grant Park Music Festival, and The 2007 Chicago Dancing Festival. Prior to that, she served as Executive Director of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (1984 – 2007); Associate Manager of the Ravinia Festival (1976 – 1983); and, was an active free-lance clarinetist prior to her arts management work. Kalver serves on the boards of Audience Architects (home of SeeChicagoDance.com and TakeChicagoDance.com), Chicago Dancers United (Dance for Life), and Northshore Concert Band; and, on the Advisory Boards of Chicago Human Rhythm Project, Child’s Play Touring Company, Ensemble Español and Project Bandaloop. Kalver is the recipient of the 1988 Ruth Page Award for Service to the Field, the Arts & Business Council of Chicago’s 2003 ABBY Award for Arts Management Excellence and the 2007 Ruth Page Award for Lifetime Service. She was also recognized by Today’s Chicago Woman as one of 100 women making a difference in Chicago. In 2011, she served as Co-Chair of the Chicago Host Committee for the Dance/ USA Annual Conference, and as Co-Chair of the 2011 Dance for Life, the 20th Anniversary Celebration. Kalver is delighted to be reunited with Frank Chaves after many exciting years together at Hubbard Street Dance Chicago.
Assistant to the Artistic Director
Sara Bibik (Manitowoc, WI) is a founding member of River North Dance Chicago and spent ten years as a performer with the company. She is honored to have received a prestigious Ruth Page Award for “A Season of Outstanding Dancing” with River North Dance Chicago in 1996. In addition to serving RNDC by teaching, coaching and rehearsing the company, Sara is passionate about training future generations of dancers as the Workshop Coordinator. She also teaches weekly classes at Inspire School of Dance (Naperville, IL) and the Irina Makkai Classical Ballet and Dance School (Highland Park, IL). She is privileged to guest teach and work with Company D (Memphis, TN): a dance company comprised of adults with Downs Syndrome. Sara has been on the faculty’s at the Gus Giordano Dance Center and the Lou Conte School of dance. She has served as guest faculty for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Chicago National Association of Dance Masters and the Virginia School of the Arts where she was honored to have been the 1998 commencement speaker. Sarah thanks her husband Jeff for love, daughter Zoe for wisdom, son Jake for light, and Mom & Dad for a love-filled springboard for this journey.
Mari Jo Irbe (La Grange, IL) is an accomplished performer, choreographer and teacher who has called Chicago "home" during much of her career. She was a featured performer with River North Dance Chicago under the direction of both Sherry Zunker and Frank Chaves for 15 years and has toured extensively performing works by dance’s most acclaimed choreographers. Mari Jo danced with the Lyric Opera of Chicago, toured nationally and internationally with Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Theatre under the direction of Randy Duncan and was the 2001 recipient of the Ruth Page Chicago Music and Dance Alliance Dance Achievement Award. In addition to her critical role with RNDC, she serves the Chicago dance community as a volunteer, dancer and committee chairperson with Dance for Life, an annual benefit to raise awareness and funds for HIV/AIDS care, prevention and education through dance. Mari Jo also choreographs and teaches extensively throughout the country, is a faculty member with Loyola University of Chicago’s Dance Department and is thrilled to be a certified BeMoved instructor, a new dance fitness experience for adults of all ages and skill levels designed by RNDC Co-Artistic Director Emerita Sherry Zunker.
Levizadik Buckins (Los Angeles, CA) trained at the Educational Center for the Arts in Connecticut, and is a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina School for the Arts where he studied under the Ethan Stiefel, Brenda Daniels and Warren Conover. He has participated in the Winston-Salem Festival of Ballet in North Carolina and frequently teaches and performs ballet and contemporary work nationally. This season marks Levidzadik’s first season with River North Dance Chicago. I would like to thank my friends and family for their love and support. I would like to thank God for giving me strength because He and I know that I’m doing the impossible.
Taeler Cyrus (Los Angeles, CA) graduated with honors from the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre/Fordham University with a B.F.A. in Dance, and has participated in numerous prestigious training intensives including Laban School in London, Impulstanz in Vienna, Paul Taylor Dance Company and the American Dance Festival. Prior to joining River North Dance Chicago, Taeler danced with Ailey II,Complexions Contemporary Ballet and the Metropolitan Opera, as well as numerous international festivals including the Holland Dance Festival, Cistermúsica Festival in Portugal, Kuopio Dance Festival in Finland and Vaison Danses in France. A recipient of an Emerging Young Artist Award and a semi-finalist at the Spotlight awards, Taeler has also modeled for Dance and Pointe magazines and performed with Kanye West on Saturday Night Live. This is Taeler’s first season with RNDC. I would love to thank my amazing mother who has been my life coach, support system and biggest fan. I owe everything to her.
Michael Gross (Colorado Springs, CO) is a graduate of the University of Arizona with a B.F.A. in Dance under the direction of Jory Hancock. He received much of his training from Colorado Jazz Dance Company in Colorado Springs and has also attended summer intensives at the American Academy of Ballet. Michael has appeared as a guest performer with Mid-Atlantic Ballet and Elements Contemporary Ballet as well as performed in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's Welcome Yule! Christmas show. Michael is in his fifth season with River North. A big thank you to my friends and family who not only unwaveringly support me, but fill my life with love and compassion.
Hank Hunter (Pittsburgh, PA) joins RNDC this season after his Spring 2012 graduation from Point Park University where he performed works by Ohad Naharin, David Parsons, Gerald Arpino and George Balanchine. After receiving his primary training in the Pittsburgh area, Hank was a member of Texture Contemporary Ballet. Love to my always supportive and incredible family.
Lauren Kias (Greenwood, IN) began her training at the Dance Refinery in Indianapolis, IN. While attending Center Grove High School, Lauren was invited to participate in Butler University’s early admissions program for gifted and talented students. Upon graduation from high school, she continued her education at the University of Cincinnati’s College Conservatory of Music. After two years at CCM, Lauren transferred to Butler University and joined Butler Ballet. Lauren has performed soloist and corps de ballet roles in various productions, and was also featured in the Indianapolis Opera’s production of Rigoletto. Upon moving to Chicago, Lauren worked with companies such as the Civic Ballet of Chicago, Ballet Legere and Inaside Chicago Dance. In 2005, Lauren was an ensemble member in the Radio City Rockettes’ Radio City Christmas Spectacular. After two years as an apprentice with River North Dance Chicago, Lauren is thrilled to be in her sixth season as a company member. Much love to my mom Susan, my dad Michael, and my brother Evan for all of their love and support they have given me. Also to my fellow dancers who always continue to inspire me and help me grow artistically.
Ethan Kirschbaum (Oakland, CA) began his dance training under Pamm Drake’s Dance/10 Performing Arts Center, the San Francisco Ballet School, and with Reginald Ray-Savage’s Savage Jazz Dance Company where he was a performing apprentice. He continued his training with scholarships to summer programs at Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet and the Juilliard School. Ethan attended the Ailey School/Fordham University B.F.A. program, and in 2008 he joined Hubbard Street 2, dancing and teaching workshops around the globe while completing his degree. Upon graduating summa cum laude with departmental honors in Dance Performance, Ethan moved to Saarbrücken, Germany to dance with Donlon Dance Company at the Saarländisches Staatstheater under the direction of Marguerite Donlon. He has performed with the Santa Fe Opera, worked with Nacho Duato, danced in the Holland Dance Festival as well as at New York City Center and the Apollo Theater, and been on faculty at The Ailey School and the Joffrey Academy. This season marks his second year with River North Dance Chicago. I am the product of an eccentrically loving and supportive family, as well as friends who both nurture and challenge me, from my first breath to the inspiration to keep following my dream—thank you!
Gretchen LaWall (Cary, NC) began her training at Cary Ballet Conservatory in North Carolina and recently graduated with a B.F.A. from University of Arizona’s School of Dance on scholarship. While at the University of Arizona, Gretchen worked with guest teachers and choreographers including Ann Reinking, Gary Chryst and Walter Kennedy, in addition to performing renowned works by George Balanchine, Bella Lewitzky and Charles Weidman. Gretchen joined the Company this season as a Company Apprentice. River North Dance Chicago has been an inspiration for me since I was 16 years old and could not be more excited for this opportunity.
Melanie Manale-Hortin (Oswego, NY) attended S.U.N.Y. Buffalo where she received her B.A. in Dance and was a member of the Zodiaque Dance Company. In addition to university, Melanie has also trained with the José Limón Dance Company. Her professional credits include performances with Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago as well as Disney on stage and screen in the movie Just Visiting starring Christina Applegate. Melanie has taught for Dance Masters and Giordano Dance Center and currently teaches throughout the Chicagoland area. In addition to teaching dance, Melanie has been a certified Pilates instructor since 2002. She is currently on faculty at Chicago Ballet Arts teaching mat class and at the Pilates Center of the North Shore, a full-equipment training facility. This is Melanie’s 10th season with River North Chicago. Thank you to Marilyn and Aggie from Art Science Salon fro Keeping my hair looking Stellar! A very special thank you to my husband and parents for their unwavering love and support over the years.
Michael McDonald (Novi, MI) received a B.F.A. in dance from Western Michigan University where he studied under Whitney Moncrief and received a Partners in Dance Scholarship. He was a company member with Thodos Dance Chicago, Elements Contemporary Ballet and Ron De Jesus Dance. Michael received scholarships to River North Dance Chicago Summer Intensives for two seasons prior to joining the Company as a Performing Apprentice. I want to thank Gina Piazza for instilling the love of dance in me, and my Dad for always supporting me.
Hayley Meier (Rochester, NY) received her early training from the Draper Center for Dance Education in upstate New York. In the summer of 2005, Hayley accepted an invitation to partake in the 14th annual International Festival of Ballet in Peru. She then went on to earn a B.F.A. in Dance at the University of Arizona on full scholarship where she had the opportunity to work with many renowned teachers and choreographers. Upon graduating in 2009, she joined the Rochester City Ballet for two seasons under the direction of Jamey Leverett. During this time, she performed numerous works including George Balanchine's Serenade, Gerald Arpino's Valentine and Patrick Corbin's premiere work Shady III. Hayley is thrilled to be in her second season with RNDC. I would like to thank my parents and grandparents for their continued love and support. I wouldn’t be here without your help. I love you!
Olivia Rehrman (Dallas, TX) received her training at the Academy of Dance Arts in Texas and graduated from the University of Arizona Dance program under the direction of Melissa Lowe, James Clouser, Sam Watson, Michael Williams and Susan Quinn. She was named Dance Spirit magazine’s “Dancer to Watch” in 2011, awarded the top accolade for Jazz dance by the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts and was a featured dancer in the HBO series Masterclass with Choreographer Bill T. Jones. This is her first season with River North Dance Chicago. I would like to thank my family for their endless support and my teachers who have given me the knowledge to get me where I am today.
Ahmad Simmons (Fort Worth, TX) Ahmad began training at the Fort Worth Academy of Fine Arts. While in Texas, he trained extensively through the Dallas Black Dance Theater, the Debbie Allen Dance Institute and the Dian Clough West Dance Center. Holding a BFA in Dance from Point Park University, under the direction of Susan Stowe, he has performed works by Bill T. Jones, Robert Battle, David Parsons, Daniel Ezralow, Martha Graham, Heidi Latsky, and Kate Skarpatowska. In addition to concert dance work, he is a proud member of the Actors’ Equity Association and has performed with Eisenhower Dance Ensemble and the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera in a number of shows including Cats, West Side Story, Oklahoma with Shirley Jones, Peter Pan with Cathy Rigby, Hairspray, The Producers and Oliver. Ahmad is in his second season with joining River North Dance Chicago this season. Love to my family, supportive friends and my unwavering instructors.
Jessica Wolfrum (Buffalo, NY) ) is in her 11th season with River North Dance Chicago. She received her early training from the David DeMarie Dance Studio, the Royal Academy of Ballet and the Buffalo Inner City Ballet School. Jessica was a May 2002 graduate of the University at Buffalo with a joint B.A. degree in Dance and Psychology. While at the University at Buffalo, she was a member of the Zodiaque Dance Company. She was also a principal dancer with the Buffalo City Ballet Company for six years and choreographed their premiere of Dracula. While in Chicago, Jessica has been a guest artist in Chicagoland performances of The Nutcracker Ballet, as well as in Wisconsin, New York and Iowa. Jessica is also on faculty at the Lou Conte Dance Studio teaching various levels of ballet and jazz. I would like to thank my friends, teachers, the whole River North Chicago Dance Family, and most importantly my amazingly supportive family: mom, dad, Jill, and Jacob. Thank you for always being my #1 fans in the audience. Mom and Dad, you brought dance into my life and have supported my passion since I was 3 years old. I love you and thank you.
RIVER NORTH DANCE CHICAGO
Specializing in jazz-based contemporary style, River North Dance Chicago presents dynamic works that combine athletic prowess and artistic perspective with bold, theatrical flair. RNCDC was founded in 1989 and has since grown to become an internationally acclaimed company that embodies a true flavor of "Americana" in its versatile repertoire. Under the artistic direction of Frank Chaves, RNDC demonstrates depth and sophistication with a commitment to creating an accessible, enriching experience for audiences ranging from seasoned dance patrons to those having their first encounter with concert dance. Chaves aims for audiences to feel the complete spectrum of human emotions in a single evening, and leaves them feeling joyful and exhilarated at the end of each program. The Chicago Sun Times claimed “This is one sleek, confident, athletic, daring, versatile company.”
River North Dance Chicago has a varied, eclectic, and powerful jazz-based contemporary repertoire. Core works by Artistic Director Frank Chaves are augmented with an array of pieces by nationally and internationally renowned choreographers. The company has acquired and commissioned original works by Robert Battle, Lauri Stallings, Sidra Bell, Sabrina and Ruben Veliz, Daniel Ezralow, Lynne Taylor-Corbett, Ashley Roland, Randy Duncan, Julia Rhoads, Harrison McEldowney, Kevin Iega Jeff, and former Co-Artistic Director Sherry Zunker, among others.
Advisory Board of Directors
Gail Kalver, Executive Director
Alexis Jaworski, Director of Marketing
Paula Petrini Lynch, Development Manager
Salena Watkins, Business Manager
Ashley Turner, Bookkeeper
Alison Rootberg, Education Coordinator
Chris Frerichs, Grant Writer
Joshua Weckesser, Production Manager
Liz Meenan, Wardrobe Supervisor
© 2012 River North Chicago Dance Company. All Rights Reserved.