River North Chicago Dance Company


River North Chicago Dance Company celebrates its 20th Anniversary Season in 2009/2010.  Founded in 1989 by four visionary dancers/choreographers the company has established itself as one of Chicago’s leading dance companies, receiving critical acclaim both on a national and international level.  Under the direction of Artistic Director Frank Chaves, the jazz-based contemporary company embodies a true flavor of “Americana” in its dynamic repertoire.
From Frank Chaves to the dancers whose artistry and talent have mesmerized a nation, River North Chicago Dance Company brings a bold standard of excellence to the cultural landscape of many communities.  The Company is recognized for its highly skilled and emotive dancers, stimulating music, and bold and commanding choreography.
Its tremendous growth in popularity has catapulted it from a local dance “group” to the status of one of the country’s most dynamic, nationally recognized professional companies. Each season, the Company brings energetic, marvelously trained performers and a gutsy, entertaining repertoire to thousands of new fans.

The works demonstrate depth and sophistication, yet what remains constant is the commitment to creating an accessible, enriching experience for audiences comprised of seasoned dance patrons as well as those having their first encounter with concert dance.
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.


Artistic & Administrative Staff
Artistic Director

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, Mr. 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, Mr. 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). Mr. Chaves’ theatrical commissions include work for Steppenwolf Theatre and the Cleveland Playhouse. As a performer, Mr. 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, Mr. 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. Mr. Chaves is an Adjunct Professor of Dance for Western Michigan University. He has been invited to create a half evening for Ballet Magdeburg in Magdeburg, Germany in 2012.
Co-Artistic Director Emerita

Sherry Zunker (Manitowoc, WI), Co-Artistic Director Emerita, joined River North Chicago Dance Company as artistic director in 1990. Ms. Zunker has set her works on The Joffrey Ballet of Chicago, Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago, and Aspen Ballet and has staged numbers for musical productions, commercials, music videos, live industrial shows, and Royal Caribbean Cruise Line productions. Ms. Zunker danced with Chicago Repertory Dance Ensemble, was a principal dancer with Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago, and performed as a soloist in Bob Fosse’s Dancin’ under Tony Award-winning choreographer Ann Reinking in the Goodman Theater’s production of Pal Joey. In 2000, Ms. Zunker received a Ruth Page Dance Achievement Award for Mission, co-created with Frank Chaves in honor of River North Chicago’s 10th anniversary. Ms. Zunker has served on the faculty of Giordano Dance Center, Lou Conte Dance Studio, River North Dance Studio, the Ruth Page Foundation School of Dance, and currently teaches master classes throughout the United States. From 1994-2001, Ms. Zunker served with Frank Chaves as co-artistic director of River North Chicago; this partnership shaped River North Chicago and its repertoire into the entertaining, engaging company that it is today. Ms. Zunker continues her work with the company through teaching and choreographing.
Executive Director

Gail Kalver (Chicago, IL), is an arts management consultant and project manager, whose client roster has 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.  Previously, she served as Executive Director of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago for 23 years; Associate Manager of the Ravinia Festival for 8 years; 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.  Kalver is thrilled to be reuniting with Frank Chaves after many fun-filled and 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. There is an abundance of laughter and love in her life thanks to her wonderful husband Jeff: daughter Zoe: and son, Jake.
Rehearsal Director
Mari Jo Irbe (La Grange, IL) is an accomplished performer, choreographer, and teacher who has called Chicago “home” during much of her career. She has been a featured performer with River North Dance Chicago (RNDC), under the direction of both Sherry Zunker and Frank Chaves, for 15 years and has toured extensively, performing works by internationally acclaimed choreographers. Mari Jo also danced with the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and toured the United States and Mexico with Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Theatre, under the direction of Randy Duncan. In addition to her extensive modern and jazz background, Mari Jo has been a guest artist with Especially Tap Co., toured nationally with the DIFFA Fashion Show of Collection Rouge, and performed with Sam Watson’s “Wats On Dance”. In 2001, Mari Jo received the “Ruth Page Chicago and Music Alliance Dance Achievement Award”. From August 2001 to April 2002, MJ danced for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines (RCCL) “Adventure Of The Seas”. In 2002, Mari Jo returned to RNDC once again, and became the company’s Rehearsal Director (current). Outside of RNDC, Mari Jo serves as auditioner and rehearsal choreographer for RCCL. Mari Jo also serves as a volunteer, dancer, and committee chairperson for Chicago’s “Dance for Life” organization. In addition, she does various commercial and industrial work throughout the city. She received her training at the Academy of Movement and Music, Jo’s Footwork Dance Studio, Salt Creek School of Ballet, and Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Theatre. Mari Jo continues to choreograph, teach, and perform extensively throughout the U.S and Chicagoland area. She is currently on faculty at Loyola University of Chicago’s dance department, dances with the Mature Dance Project under the direction of Sherry Zunker and is thrilled to be a certified BeMoved instructor. (A new dance fitness experience, designed by Sherry Zunker, for adults of all ages and skill levels).
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Company Members
Hanna Brictson (Elgin, IL) is a graduate of Larkin H.S.’s performing arts academy. She has been the recipient of many scholarships, including those from Point Park University, Western Michigan University, and San Francisco’s ODC intensive. She has trained extensively in the Chicagoland area, and considers the artists she has worked under as some of the most influential people of her life. Hanna is grateful to be a part of River North Chicago, which she has called home since 2004.  She would like to thank her parents for letting her follow her dream, and her incredible friends and co-workers that continue to inspire her with their endless talent and love.
Kelly Michael Brunk (Kansas City, MO) trained at Priscilla and Dana’s School of Dance and the Kansas City Ballet. He is an honored graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and a former student at the Salzburg Experimental Academy of Dance in Austria. He has worked for GroundWorks Dance Theater (Cleveland), Doug Elkins and Friends (New York), Cherylyn Lavagnino Dance (New York),and has performed in industrials in Las Vegas, AIDS benefits in New York, pageants throughout the Midwest, independent films, and motion capture for dance video games for the Xbox Connect and Wii. Brunk has choreographed for GroundWorks Dance Theater, Second Avenue Dance Company (New York), films, pageants, and even for professional indoor-football cheer. He thanks his parents and family for their tremendous love and support.
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 fourth season with River North and would like to thank his family and friends for their unconditional support.
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 Inside 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 fifth season as a company member.
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 first with River North Dance Chicago.
Tucker Knox (Franklin, TN) is in his first season as a company member with River North Dance Chicago.  He began his dance training at D.C. Dance Factory in Franklin, TN, and joined their company at age 12. He later moved to Virginia Beach at the age of 17 to study under Denise Wall.  Tucker is a graduate of The Juilliard School in NYC where he trained in classical ballet, partnering, modern, as well as many contemporary techniques. At Julliard, he performed works from The Jose Limon Company, and also worked with Gallim Dance Company with Andrea Miller during his time in NYC.
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.  Professional credits include performances with Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago as well as performing for 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 ninth season with River North Chicago.
Hayley Meier (Rochester, NY) received her early training from the Draper Center for Dance Education in upstate New York. In the summer of 2005, Ms. Meier 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. This is Hayley’s first season with RNDC, and she couldn’t be more excited to be a part of the company.
Cassandra Porter (Aurora, IL) began her dance training at Bonnie Ardelean’s Dance Studio in Aurora, IL. After graduating, she continued her training in Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago’s second company, Giordano II. Her professional credits include three contracts with Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, where she performed the choreography of Frank Chaves, Harrison McEldowney, Jeremy Plummer, and Sherry Zunker, and was also a featured aerialist in the first grand scale illusion show at sea. Since 2003, she has danced in Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s annual Christmas show, Welcome Yule!  In the summer of 2007, Cassandra was one of twelve girls to appear on the CW network TV show “The Pussycat Dolls Presents: Girlicious”.  In addition, Cassandra continues to teach around the Chicagoland area and is honored to begin her third season with River North.
Ahmad Simmons (Fort Worth, TX)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 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 danced with the Eisenhower Dance Ensemble last season and is honored to be joining River North Dance Chicago this season.
James Walters (Rochester, NY)began his dance training at the Little Red Dancing School under Lisa Allain and Sarah Madurski, receiving his classical training from Sarah Rothrock-Rickle and later Brad Parquette. James graduated Manga Cum Laude from the University at Buffalo where he received a B.F.A. in Dance, and performed with the University’s Zodiaque Dance Company. He also danced with the Lockport Classical Ballet under the tutelage of William Gentes and Susannah Dwyer-Gentes where he premiered the role of Demetrius in Lockport’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He also was a guest performer with Buffalo City Ballet, Greater Buffalo Youth Ballet and the Youth Ballet of Johnson City. James is very excited to begin his first season with River North Dance Chicago and would like to thank his family, friends and mentors for helping him realize his dreams.
Joshua Wark (Chicago, IL)joined River North Dance Chicago in August, 2011. Joshua began his training at Sally Doerr Dance Academy in Cass City, MI, and later attended The Chicago Academy for the Arts, studying under the direction of Randy Duncan and Anna Paskevska. During this time, he also studied with various artists in Chicago at the Joel Hall Center for Dance and the Lou Conte Dance Center, as well as appearing with the Joffrey Ballet in such productions as “The Nutcracker” and “Taming of the Shrew”. Upon graduation in 2004, Joshua moved to NY to attend the Juilliard School, where he worked with a wide array of choreographers, including Adam Hougland, Bennyroyce Royon, Austin MCormick, and Janis Brenner. Joshua has performed and toured with the Ron de Jesus Dance Company, and appeared in the 20th Anniversary performance of Dance for Life Chicago.
Jessica Wolfrum (Buffalo, NY) is in her ninth season with River North 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 for 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. Jessica would like to thank her family, friends, teachers, and the whole River North family for all their guidance, love, and support.
Jessica would like to thank her family, friends and teachers for all their guidance, love and support.