Thodos “Made in Chicago” Dance Concert Review – Fabulous Dancing Brings History Alive

The Auditorium Theatre’s 125th birthday is being celebrated in grand style.  The dance programming is especially exciting because it showcases many companies displaying dance performances in the perfect venue.  I had the opportunity of seeing a truly memorable performance on November 29th when Thodos Dance Chicago lit up the stage.  It was a night to remember.


There was a little bit of everything- a tribute to the Auditorium Theatre, a tribute to dancer/choreographer Sybil Shearer, dance that ranged from a story to dance that was abstract and percussive.  There were detailed costumes and simple leotards, intricate sets and a blank stage, significant lighting, and multimedia.  Robert and his three friends seated near us was visiting from Toronto  and were among those fortunate enough to attend this one time only performance.  Very quickly they were able to learn all about a Chicago's history dating back 125 years.


The evening opened with a video about the Auditorium Theatre, and the role it played in Chicago’s history. The Auditorium Theatre played a key role in Chicago’s hosting the 1893 Columbian Exposition, which, in turn, helped to make Chicago the city it is today. Chicago’s local civic leaders vied with those in St. Louis, New York City and Washington DC to host a fair because they believed a fair on this scale would reestablish Chicago as a solid destination for travel and commerce. The opening of the Auditorium Theatre created such a sensation that Congress believed this was an indication that the people of Chicago had the vision, forethought, work ethic, and financing to successfully produce a world-class fair.  The first act of the Thodos Dance performance was The White City, Chicago’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 and was the perfect fit and a fantastic dance experience.


During its early decades, the Auditorium stage played host to the leading entertainers of the era, including John Phillip Sousa, Sarah Bernhardt, the Ziegfeld Follies, Anna Pavlova and Helen Morgan, as well as political figures including Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Booker T. Washington. It was also the home to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Chicago Grand Opera Company, and even featured indoor baseball games and was, at one point, used as a bowling alley. More about the Auditorium Theatre .


This remount of Thodos Dance Chicago’s critically-acclaimed “The White City: Chicago’s Columbian Exposition of 1893,” based on the extraordinary events of the Columbian Exposition (as depicted in the best-selling book, “Devil in the White City,” by author Erik Larsen) was named Best Dance Performance (2011) by the “Chicago Sun-Times.”  This contemporary story ballet, which is a collaboration between Thodos Dance Chicago Founder and Artistic Director Melissa Thodos and Tony Award-winner Ann Reinking, features 12 dancers and a score composed by Bruce Wolosoff.  I am intrigued by this amazing period of time in Chicago history.  The book is complicated and dark, contrasting the time pressure faced by those who conceived and executed the fair and the deaths of 200 at the hands of Dr. Holmes who had built his "World's Fair Hotel" complete with a gas chamber, dissection table, and a crematorium to dispose of the bodies. Holmes would remove the skeletons of his victims and sell them for medical and scientific study.  And there were the visitors to the fair amazed and happy to enjoy the fantastic sights at the fair.  How could this be expressed clearly in dance?  It was, as my companion said, done "brilliantly".

A video briefly depicted the basic story and set the scene for story dance that followed.

Costumes, sets, video background and dancing that contrasted the charm of the fair with the horror taking place “underground”.  Along with the audience, I was awed by the skill of all of the dancers.  The fight scene was remarkable, as was the scene in the tunnel. For some wonderful photos of the World’s Fair, go here.

"Tsuru", choreographed by Lucas Crandall, opened the second half of the performance. On a stark stage and lighting created powerful images as the dancers crossed the stage. (Lighting design was by Nathan Tomlinson).  The dancing was in contrast to the story of the first act and displayed powerful movement that was accompanied by percussive, tribal like beats.  Dancers were skilled in the exactness of their movement, maintaining fluidity in movement that could easily become overly athletic.


A salute to Sybil Shearer featuring Melissa Thodos, Founder and Artistic Director and Toby Nicholson, who was part of Sybil Shearer’s company from 1960 to 1980 and manages the Morrison-Shearer Foundation, offered a snippet of what Sybil Shearer’s role as a pioneer in the development of Modern Dance.  Three of Sybil Shearer’s dances followed, each restaged by Toby Nicholson under the direction of Melissa Thodos.


The three works offered an insight into the range of Shearer’s choreography.  The numbers were “Time Longs for Eternity from Fables and Proverbs”,  “A Salute to Old Friends, Walter Terry” and “A Salute to Old Friends, Agnes de Mille”.  I loved the way a video of Sybil Shearer dancing with joy and abandon formed the backdrop to the dancers who were doing the same steps on stage.


The program concluded with the performance of Lullaby choreographed by Brian Enos and premiered by Thodos Dance Chicago’s “New Dances 2012”.  Brian Enos was also the costume designer and, along with Johnny Nevin was part of the remix and additional production of The King Singers.  In this lyrical and very modern work, the Thodos Dance Chicago dancers were spot on.  Thodos Dance Chicago will have several performances in the future, which should not be missed.  Go to the Thodos Dance Chicago website



To learn more about the amazing range of upcoming events at the Auditorium Theatre go to the Auditorium Theatre 

Auditorium Theatre

50 East Congress Parkway, Chicago

(855) 393-6044


Photos: Courtesy of Thodos Dance Chicago unless otherwise noted.



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