Johnny Nevin

The Thodos Dance Chicago Winter Concert: Ron De Jesús and Shift

Shift at the The Thodos Dance Chicago Winter Concert

Accomplishment and serenity are not always traveling companions. The continuous effort that an unending series of challenges and successes demands often occupies most of the space in life that might have been reflection or relaxation. Ron de Jesús knows something about that, because nobody accomplishes what he has without working hard and working a lot. Every line in a long list of credits and awards --- dancing from Hubbard Street to Broadway, work in film, work in theater, choreographing for many of the world's great dance companies --- every credit and every award is its own list of meetings, cab rides, rehearsals, and airports, of meals missed and sleep forgone. On the other hand, you can't create original choreography that is as thoughtful (and thought-provoking) as his unless you can somehow find a way to stop. To look. Or as De Jesús says, "to respect all that this grand, delicate world has to offer".

The Thodos Dance Chicago Winter Concert: Wade Schaaf and Dancer, Net

Dancer, Net at the Thodos Dance Chicago Winter Concert

Wade Schaaf's "Dancer, Net" is a truly daring work; conceived as a series of studies of the same subject in different lights, it was inspired by Monet's Haystack paintings, but Schaaf's interpretation of "same subject" and "different lights" is so blisteringly imaginative that the reference to the French impressionist paintings becomes quite an understatement. The original work featured the same dancer (Jacqueline Stewart) in more or less the same amazing costume (the Net) by Nathan Rohrer, performing in three separate solos, and at its World Premiere in July, 2010, the three solos were placed at different stages throughout the program. The wildly expansive variety of music, movement and staging that Schaaf conceived stretched the fabric of his original concept in ways that seemed essential to the success of the work.

The Thodos Dance Chicago Winter Concert: Melissa Thodos and Getting There

"Getting There" at the Thodos Dance Chicago Winter Concert

In 1988, Melissa Thodos presented her first major professional work, a solo she also performed, at the Internationale Dance de Paris competition. "Reaching There" was innovative and elegant; it featured a brilliant original electronic score and a large (almost as big as her) wood cylinder, the Wheel, that she danced through, around, and with in what turned out to be an award-winning work. "Reaching There" also defined the beginning of an important career; it brought the talented dancer recognition as a choreographer, and began a trajectory that led not long afterwards to the founding of the Company that is now Thodos Dance Chicago. In the twenty years that followed, Thodos' career expanded; while it always included successful and award-winning choreographic work, it began to be even more defined by the development of a very different concept in what a Dance Company can be. Her idea of emphasizing equally performance, choreography and education led to a Company of artists who now include several award-winning choreographers in their own right.

The Thodos Dance Chicago Winter Concert: Francisco Avina and Stephanie Martinez Bennitt and Quieting the Clock

Quieting The Clock from The Thodos Dance Winter Concert

Before Francisco Avina and Stephanie Martinez Bennitt were asked by Thodos Dance Chicago to be the guest choreographers for the Tenth Anniversary of the New Dances series, they had already begun the discussion and reflection that would lead to "Quieting the Clock". When the work premiered it was an audience favorite, perhaps because of its embracing visual elegance, and a critical favorite, perhaps because of the integrity of its ambitious architecture. "Quieting the Clock" is inspired by a simple and profound question, or rather, by an endless series of interrelated questions. How does the passage of time effect who you are? As time progresses, what is the relationship between who you are now and who you once were --- and may never be again. As the passage of time changes what you are capable of, where do you find balance, and hopefully continuity, in a redefinition that is gradually forced into your life? Avina and Martinez Bennitt expand their exploration to embrace all of the ways in which identity is defined by the logistics of time, by the pressures of schedule and obligation, and more gradually, of age.

The Thodos Dance Chicago Winter Concert: Ann Reinking, Melissa Thodos and The White City

Photo by Cheryl Mann (Courtesy of Thodos Dance Chicago)

Artistic collaboration is an art of its own, and a successful collaboration can achieve a level of artistic expression that is very different from what either of the artists individually might have found without the other. It seems like this would be particularly true of large, daunting artistic projects, but with collaboration, as with any art, the larger the undertaking, the more complicated the challenges become. In Ann Reinking and Melissa Thodos' "The White City: Chicago's Columbian Exposition of 1893", the two choreographers present an intricate, large-scale work that embraces a daunting series of artistic challenges, and in their collaboration manage somehow to bring all of them together into a single, convincing presentation.

It might seem surprising that a renowned Jazz and Broadway choreographer and an innovative and respected Contemporary choreographer would together make a ballet, but to call the work a ballet isn't entirely accurate. The richly costumed, story-driven work, framed by a compelling, classically textured score, creates an experience that is certainly ballet-like, and the scope of the work is also on that scale. Yet the movement vocabulary is multi-disciplined, and while there is a framework of the classical in the movements that portrays story, "The White City" is too complex to classify. The Thodos Dance performers bring such unrelenting commitment and ability to the thirteen scenes, and the entire concept is so intricately interwoven with Nathan Tomlinson's lighting, Chris Olsen's video, Nathan Rohrer's costumes, Gary Chryst's staging, and the Carpe Diem String Quartet's impeccable presentation of Bruce Wolosoff's "Songs Without Words" that there may not be any real reason for (or any real chance of) categorizing the work. More intriguing is to speculate about where this comes from, about how Reinking and Thodos found this, imagined this, made this.

Craig Kaufman's Return to Point Park University

Kaufman in 2002 (age 18), just before starting at Point Park.  How bout that

Craig Kaufman left Point Park University in December of 2005 and set out, like so many other graduates from the prestigious dance program, to see what he could see in the world of professional dance. It's not that long, but he's already returning to Point Park as one of the choreographers for the University's widely respected Pittsburgh Connections series.

Black Light Saints Finish Mixing Impossible Picks EP

Dan Agosto was at Heart & Soul Studios all last week completing the mixing and mastering for an exceptional debut EP by Black Light Saints, and even though he only delivered the masters on Sunday, there's already a great review on the EP out of the UC Berkeley paper The Daily Californian --- but more on that in a minute. I can't post the link to the review until I explain a couple of things, even though it was pretty amazing. "In Impossible Picks, Black Light Saints know what the electronic genre begs for and deliver it in 27 minutes of hypnotic synths and infectious bass" is the way Daily Californian writer Cynthia Kang closes the first paragraph of her well-written review, and she goes on, even more enthusiastically.

Black Light Saints:
Excerpts from "What Happens Next", "Baby Girl" and "Cattle Skull"
from Impossible Picks

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The Joffrey Ballet's Victoria Jaiani and Hedy Weiss in Dance Magazine

Dance Magazine cover featuring Victoria Jaiani.  Photo by Herbert Migdoll

The cover of the October issue of Dance Magazine features Victoria Jaiani of the Joffrey Ballet, who is the featured artist in an informative cover story written by Hedy Weis. Ballet is a world of its own, and Weiss manages to combine a cohesive biographical story about Jaiani (quite a story at that) with some very three-dimensional insight into life at the Joffrey. It's one of those articles that serves as an informative introductory guide to a subject you're aware of but don't know well, which is a fair description of the ballet and aotpr.com.

Weiss finds a lot of those remarkable details that take you into a world that somebody else lives every day. One of my favorites is when the Joffrey's Artistic Director Ashley Wheater (whose several appearances in the article paint a fascinating picture of the role of an Artistic Director) is describing some of what makes Jaiani so good. "... Her jump seemed to spring from nothing, like a deer". That's an intriguing observation, and clearly an important idea in ballet, where verticality often seems so primary, but from there Wheater moves on to a concept that was new to me. He continues with an idea that implies a very different way of seeing ballet performance: "She has such a fluid upper body --- something I think we've lost globally in ballet --- so she really stands out." Quite an insight into what an Artistic Director has to perceive, and into how movement in ballet defines its own evolving ideals. It's a very enjoyable read, despite everything you end up learning. Worth finding at the news stand, or take a look at the article at dancemagazine.com.

The Choreography of New Dances: Francisco Avina and Stephanie Martinez Bennitt and Quieting the Clock

Stephanie Martinez Bennitt
Francisco Avina

Before Francisco Avina and Stephanie Martinez Bennitt were asked by Thodos Dance Chicago to be the guest choreographers for the Tenth Anniversary of the New Dances series, they had already begun the discussion and reflection that would lead to their new work, "Quieting the Clock". The work is inspired by a simple and profound question, or rather, by an endless series of interrelated questions. How does the passage of time effect who you are? As time progresses, what is the relationship between who you are now and who you once were --- and may never be again. As the passage of time changes what you are capable of, where do you find balance, and hopefully continuity, in a redefinition that is gradually forced into your life? Avina and Martinez Bennitt expand their exploration to embrace all of the ways in which identity is defined by the logistics of time, by the pressures of schedule and obligation, and more gradually, of age.

The Choreography of New Dances: Wade Schaaf and Dancer, Net

Wade Schaaf (Photo by Cheryl Mann, courtesy of Thodos Dance Chicago)

Wade Schaaf's new work "Dancer, Net" was inspired by the concept of French impressionist painter Claude Monet's Haystack series, which "is known for its thematic use of repetition to show differences in perception of light across various times of day, seasons and types of weather" (Wikipedia). Even the title of the work, "Dancer, Net" reflects the conventions of painting, where a work will often be identified by it's subject ("Wheatstacks (End Of Summer)") and the way it is made ("Oil on Canvas"). In "Dancer, Net" Schaaf creates three separate solos, each of which features the same soloist and the same net-like fabric bag. The three solos are performed separately, at different points during the concert program, thereby accentuating the impact of the changing perspective from which an audience will see them. Schaaf's most recent work was a successful large-ensemble piece ("Awakening"), and in turning his creative vision to the more raw, more immediately-apparent movements of a solo work, he is able to explore in detail the many facets of a single subject.

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