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Frank Chaves

Enjoying twenty three successful years as the  Artistic Director of River North Dance Chicago, Frank Chaves  produced over 20 original works for the company.  Mr. Chaves now concentrates solely on creating new works of choreography as well as finding homes for his existing body of work though he officially retired in 2015. 

Crediting valuable early experience as a musician along with  his Cuban heritage for his works' musicality and passion, Frank uses a wide variety of music. Yet,  his process is always the same.  He explains, “ When I hear a piece of music, I'm flooded with emotion and the desire to produce something that replicates that feeling. Then I listen to it thousands of times, developing a very intimate relationship until the music becomes a part of me. Most often I have no idea what I want to do until I get into the studio to work with the dancers. Slowly but surely it starts to take shape and reveal itself, all through a very collaborative experience. I’m always most interested in pushing boundaries and peeling back layers to understand the very essence of the people with whom I am working. It’s important to know both the dancer and the person. Bringing both to light offers  the greatest potential in the creative process.”

He recently  restaged two older works and created two world premieres, one of which was his first foray into the ballet world creating his first piece on pointe.  Feeling it was a natural progression, Mr. Chaves was  thrilled with the result and says he “can’t get enough!”.


While his past work included mostly jazz and contemporary, considerable ballet technique was always required.  He shares, “ I’ve always appreciated the ballet aesthetic and the unparalleled ethereal quality of being on pointe. While I will never give up my choreographic roots and will continue to work in all disciplines, I am particularly excited to try my hand at ballet, contemporary in nature.”

As a performer,  Mr. Chaves  danced with Ballet Concerto of Miami, New York's Ballet Hispanico, Giordano Dance Chicago, and six years with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago where he  worked with choreographers such as Twyla Tharp, Margo Sappington, Daniel Ezralow, Lynne Taylor-Corbett, David Parsons and Lou Conte. In 2000,  he received a Ruth Page Dance Achievement Award for Mission, co-created with Sherry Zunker, Co-Artistic Director Emerita of River North, in honor of the Company's 10th anniversary.  He was also recognized with a 2008 Choo-San Goh Award for Choreography from the Choo-San Goh & H. Robert Magee Foundation for Tuscan Rift.  Frank had the great honor and privilege of being named “Chicagoan of Year in Dance” by The Chicago Tribune in 2014.

At the same time, for more than 10 years,  Frank has  been dealing with a degenerative spinal cord disease, syringomyelia, which in his case has no known cause and no known cure. After his second surgery, in 2010, things deteriorated quickly, and he is now  in a wheelchair indefinitely.

It's been quite the journey — of all things, a dancer and choreographer losing his physicality, accompanied by a multitude of symptoms that manifest into chronic pain, make it much more than losing the use of his  legs. However, the one thing this disease cannot take away is his  imagination. He implores, “So long as I have imagination and there is music, I can continue to create!”.

Collaborating with dancers and a significantly reconfigured creative process, Mr. Chaves continues to produce the highly musical, emotionally gripping dances that are his  passion and hallmark. This is reflected in “Havana Blue and Eva” created in 2013 as well as the  poignant men's piece “ In the End”,  his  first piece fully created from a wheelchair in 2014,  in addition to his  most current works.

Franks is incredibly excited about working with Azara Ballet. With a clear and unique vision, he can see that Kate and Martin are creating a sanctuary where their artists can thrive and will be cared for both physically and emotionally.

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