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".
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.
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.
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.
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.