Thodos Dance Chicago's New Dances 2015 Review - Miracles in the Making, 15 Years and Counting

Thodos Dance Chicago presented its 15th New Dances Series on Saturday and Sunday, July 18th and 19th at The Atheneum, Theatre, 2936 N. Southport, Chicago. This internationally recognized Company presented  nine dance premieres, eight created by Ensemble members, one by guest choreographer Bryan McGinnis. The Anniversary Program was introduced by company founder Melissa Thodos, who continued this tradition of post-performance support and dance development first begun by The Chicago Repertory Dance Ensemble. This years program was an exhilarating display of strong dance talent, costume, lighting and especially brilliant musical accompaniment. Indeed, the music did more than simply support the dance effort; in some of the works, particularly the pieces arranged and crafted by Choreographer/musician/ author/ photographer Johnny Nevin, the music drove, surrounded, and amplified the physicality. Nevin has written about the seemingly disparate disciplines of choreography and music composition, commenting ”the individual creative challenges are far too complex by themselves…to somehow translate them into a single creative process”. Yet for this program he and the other sound designers largely accomplished this goal. Credit for the stellar costume design for this production goes to Moriah Turner, Nathan Roher and Autumn Rentsch.


All You Need-Taylor Mitchell (choreographer)

Each dance presentation represented three months of intensive creative effort, rehearsal and the collective work of multiple artists and disciplines. Special mention must be made of both the lighting effects and the audio in "A Fragile Acceptance”, choreographed by Abby Elison. At first the dancers, who sometimes appear as broken but never out- of-control puppets, emerge and coalesce while a drift of smoke simmers and wafts above stage left. What sounds like distant thunder becomes a becomes a flickering electronic buzz  as the dancers meld into themselves and into each other, wrapping their arms behind their backs and yet seeming to swim onstage. Music: “A Soft Throbbing, by Frank Bretschneider; “Walk” by Ludovico Einaudi, “Fungbugfx” by Alva Noto, audio design by Johnny Nevin.


Miriam - Ryan McGinnis (choreographer)

In “Somatic”, choreographed by John Cartwright, Johnny Nevin's  audio effects were  actually thrilling, with the sound acting like a rhythm guitar in a rock band, rising to a crescendo, while duets and trios of agile and impossibly graceful dance artists deployed ballet-infused leg movements while employing jazz-inspired shoulders snd hands. Music for this piece: “ Technically Missing” by Trent Reznor and  Atticus Ross, and “Suite for Cello Solo No. 1 in G, BMV 1007:1. Prelude” by Johann Sebastian Bach.


So Young, It Runs-Kyle Hadenfeldt (choreographer)

By contrast, the extremely clever “All you need is”, choreographed by Taylor Mitchell, was a humorous modern ballet set to 4 pieces of music, “Charleston”, by Enoch Light Orchestra, “Can Can” from Orpheus in the Underworld”, “Le Parc de Plasir” by Francois Parisi, and “Si Tu Vois Ma Mere”, by Sidney Bachet. The dancers moved through the first 2 pieces in stylistic renditions of the Charleston and the Can Can,  and throughout scattered, toyed with and nominally swept with an actual broom crimson heart-shaped petals, effortlessly mumming Chaplinesque and French- farce-like movements in concert with more classical balletic turns and lifts.


Something to do with Five - Jessica Miller Tomlinson (choreographer)

The costumes throughout, splendidly and often ethereally transformed by the lighting design of Slick Jorgenson, Nathan Tomlinson and Erik Barry were deceptively simple, often tee shirts and shorts, but also including a collection of navy and white striped modified boat-necked jerseys, open necked, long-sleeved white men’s Oxford shirts, loose cropped yoga-inspired pants and simple real-waisted skirted dance frocks. The dancers appeared in socks, barefoot and in tights. Marvelous touches included the women's  floaty white open back tees in "Go Ahead and Turn Back”, choreographed by Briana Robinson, with it's very strong athletic moves, and the memorable male costumes with vests, baggy slacks and white shirts in “Something to Do With Five”, choreographed by Jessica Miller Tomlinson. This last was also this reviewer’s favorite piece in the series, starring five male dancers, Daniel Chenowith, Michael McDonald,Taylor Mitchell, Brendan Renteria and Owen Scarlett, who performed a depression –era modern spiritual lament and ballet, absolutely beautiful in footwork and overall execution, to the extremely strong sounds of Lead Belly, Memphis Jug Band and Casey Bill Weldon.

 Another spectacular piece was “Miriam”, choreographed by guest choreographer Brian McGinnis, to the compelling sounds of Miriam Makeba,including a piece originally recorded by The Beatles. This evocative performance, especially the first part, to the music of “Strange Love” was so wonderfully executed that the music, which could easily have overawed the dance, enhanced its lyrical qualities.


Waiting for What - Tenley Dorrill (choreographer)

Finally, the last piece,“So young it Runs”, choreographed by Kyle Hadenfeldt, starred eight dancers, running, darting, pairing , uncoupling and sometimes seeming to float across the stage in iridescent blue-green costumes. It was a lovely finish to a wonderful series.

 The dancers of Thodos are indeed fortunate to get this very special and extraordinary opportunity to compose, direct and produce original work, and we, the public, are also lucky each year to view these world premiers. However, throuout the year Thodos Dance Chicago performs wonderful work: upcoming events will include the “Made in Chicago” Dance Series in January at The Auditorium  and “Chicago Revealed” in February and March at The North Shore Center for the Performing Arts and Harris Theatre for Music and Dance.


Miriam - Ryan McGinnis (choreographer)

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All photo credits Cheryl Mann

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