A little east of the Theater District and their classically restored auditoriums is the wonderfully post modern Harris Theater. A giant black box with plenty of exposed scaffolding, the theater focuses the eye to the stage well before the performance has even begun. This emphasis on the performance is consistent with the Harris Theater’s expressed mission of offering a home to a wide variety of artists that have included such gems as the San Francisco and New York Ballet, Daniel Barenboim, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and Lang Lang. On March 2, 2012 Thodos Dance Chicago (TDC) settled into the Harris Theater and presented its 2012 Winter Concert as part of a series of performances across the Chicago land area celebrating their 20th anniversary.
Leading off the concert was The White City: Chicago’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 which was choreographed by the legendary artist Ann Reinking and TDC founder Melissa Thodos. First performed in 2011, The White City is simply amazing in its artful weaving of the world’s fair conception, the murderous Dr. Holmes, and the cadence of late 19th century Chicago both in celebration and in mourning. Images flashed on a screen help to complement the storytelling (Chris Multhauf is especially good in his narration of the events surrounding the Columbian Exposition). I found the two dance numbers detailing Dr. Holmes (Brian Hare) trapping of an innocent (Jessica Miller Tomlinson) especially haunting. In Dr. Holmes’ Next Possession, the audience is exposed to the creeping sinister nature of Dr. Holmes. What at first plays out as a subtle seduction quickly turns evil with the violence of the moment expressed in his pulling of the victim’s hair. A different number finds that same victim in a futile struggle to escape death while climbing the walls of her caged box. One can feel her panic and desperation as she gasps for air. Her eventual demise is as powerful a moment one can expect to see on stage. This results in the eventual resurrection of this victim as a vengeful ghost all the more satisfying.
The White City is not without its light hearted moments. One can see the influence of Ann Reinking in several numbers with The People’s Mayor feeling very much like a Fosse piece. And The Architects' Dilemma expresses the creativity put into the Columbian Exposition primarily through tightly sequenced rapid arm movement. I also found Root’s Vision to be inspirational in dancer Jeremy Blair’s ability to express a dying man’s never ending pursuit of a dream (and his peace when he at last can see that dream, the White City). Also well done was the assassination of Mayor Harris (Jon Sloven) by the deranged Prendergast (Joshua Manculich). Their deliberate dance steps offer the viewer an engaging stop action fight sequence.
Following The White City were classic Thodos performances from this decade as well as the mid 90s. Exurgence (choreographed by Jeremy Blair and Mollie Mock Kaufman and first premiering in 2011) was paired wonderfully to Zoe Keating's musical musings. Patterns moved with the music and the effect was utterly hypnotic. Getting There (choreographed by Melissa Thodos and first performed in 2011) was clever in its use of lighting as well as in its ending. In that number dancers used an oversized circle to push, chase and prance upon. The more traditional Piece of Peace (Part 1) was also performed and the night ended with Chant (choreographed by Melissa Thodos and first performed in 1992). The latter performance made good use of its pulsing beat (music by Intermix) and suggested to me the energy of a city at work.
Immediately following the intermission was a short film sequence celebrating the Thodos Dance Chicago’s twenty year anniversary. To me, it was self indulgent and tiring. Also the volume was deafening. That one miscalculation aside, the Thodos Dance Chicago’s 2012 Winter Concert was a feast of the senses and with enough creativity to be worthy of celebrating the good and evil of past and present Chicago.
Bottom line: Thodos Dance Chicago is highly recommended for serious students of dance, casual watchers of shows like So you think you can dance?, and everyone in between. One of the great benefits of living in a world class city like Chicago is its endless cultural opportunities. Take advantage of it. For future Thodos Dance Chicago click here: http://thodosdancechicago.org/. As of this writing, tickets are still available for the March 3rd viewing of the 2012 Winter Concert which is again performed at the Harris Theater.
All photos provided by Thodos Dance Chicago