New Dances

Thodos Dance Chicago Presents New Dances 2013

Kyle Hadenfeldt, Emily Walen and John Cartwright in "Relativity" (Photo by Johnn

Although many Dance Companies now present a program at some point in their year that features choreography by the members of the Company, very few have done so for as long, and perhaps none do so with as much commitment and creativity as Thodos Dance Chicago. Thodos Dance's New Dances Choreography Series, described by Time Out Chicago dance writer Matt de la Peña as "one of the best in-house choreographic showcases", is in its thirteenth season, and on Friday and Saturday, July 19-20 at 7:30 PM, and again on Sunday July 21 at 5:00 PM, the series will feature nine new works in performances at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts in Chicago.

There are quite a few reasons why these programs are so uniquely effective. One of them is that Thodos Dance company members are hired as choreographers, not just as dancers. Because of Melissa Thodos' emphasis on the development of company members as choreographers, Thodos company members have the opportunity, and the experience, to put together a consistently eclectic and successful program, but that same emphasis on choreography among the dancers has another significant effect. New Dances is a uniquely collaborative phenomenon.

Thodos Dance Chicago New Dances 2011

There's a well-known dance theater whose web site describes with pride -- and justifiably so --- how more than twenty new choreographic works have been commissioned by the space over fifteen or so years. An impressive accomplishment, considering the complexity and challenge of sponsoring and staging even a single new work. It puts into vivid perspective, though, the incredible achievement of the Thodos New Dances series, which in its eleventh year is approaching its one hundredth new work, many of which have gone on to achieve impressive success beyond the New Dances program.

The process that transmutes an idea from experimental to iconic is long and improbable, and a careful look through the program for the ever-more-impressive 2011 edition of New Dances gives some idea of what that process involves. It requires a substantial community of shared enthusiasm, working hard to make everything work successfully.

In a great article called Together With A Gift at 4dancers.org, Kimberly Peterson talks about the latin roots of the word "communiity", which comes from the latin words for "together" and "gift". New Dances 2011 is a community of more than forty dancers, ten choreographers, a distinguished advisor panel, the Thodos Dance Chicago staff and technical organizations, and several independent lighting, sound and costume designers. Over its eleven year history, New Dances has probably been the shared creation of four or five hundred artists, and now regularly performing to packed houses, in its various editions it has played to an audience several thousand people too large to fit in any dance theater. It's an astonishing achievement, of course in the multi-faceted success of nine different choreographic visions, but even more significantly, in the multidimensional gifts shared by the unique community that makes it happen.

Thodos Dance Chicago's NEW DANCES Reviews

The New Dances 2010 concerts at the Dance Center presented three nights of some of the most impressive new dance creation you could ask for. The combined creativity of the ten featured choreographers, expressed in the movement of an inspired cast of performers, and with the support of an exceptional production staff, made for a one-of-a-kind presentation. The reviews have been exceptional, with Sid Smith in the Chicago Tribune on Sunday, and Hedy Weiss on Tuesday in the Chicago Sun-Times both writing strongly supportive pieces. Hedy Weiss opens with a great paragraph about the daunting challenges of dance creation in an article whose title described the show as "a rich threatrical work". She goes on to describe the presentation as "very thoughtful, richly theatrical work that often was downright virtuosic." Sid Smith described New Dances 2010 as a "worthy potpourri", and observes that "the production is slick, the technical trappings superb and the event is well worth replicating elsewhere". To read either review in full, click on either the Chicago Sun-Times or the Chicago Tribune. To read some of the aotpr.com series on the Choreography of New Dances, click on any of the links below:

Sharon Joyce Kung and "Just Before Now"
Brian Hare and "Temporary Proof"
Wade Schaaf and "Dancer, Net"
Jacqueline Stewart and "Jiffy Pop"
Joshua Manculich and "____versus____"
Danielle Scanlon and "Heart Strings"
Francisco Avina & Stephanie Martinez Bennitt and "Quieting the Clock"
Jeremy Blair and "2:00 AM, Delancy St."
Jessica Miller Tomlinson and "Big Technique"

Thodos Dance Chicago Presents NEW DANCES 2010

Thodos Dance Chicago NEW DANCES 2010

Thodos Dance Chicago’s NEW DANCES 2010 will be presented July 16 and 17 at 8PM and on Sunday July 18 at 5PM at The Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago, 1306 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago 60605. (312) 369-8330. For ten years, New Dances has been a uniquely successful showcase of new choreography; it's innovative approach to supporting the development of new works has created a whole artistic scene around the rehearsals and studio work, costuming, sound and lighting design that go on each spring and early summer, leading to the July performances. It's a once-a-year opportunity to see a bright and broad spectrum of innovative dance creation, but at major-company levels of performance and production. You can find out more about each of the choreographers and the works they will be premiering here:

Sharon Joyce Kung and "Just Before Now"
Brian Hare and "Temporary Proof"
Wade Schaaf and "Dancer, Net"
Jacqueline Stewart and "Jiffy Pop"
Joshua Manculich and "____versus____"
Danielle Scanlon and "Heart Strings"
Francisco Avina & Stephanie Martinez Bennitt and "Quieting the Clock"
Jeremy Blair and "2:00 AM, Delancy St."
Jessica Miller Tomlinson and "Big Technique"

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.

The Choreography of New Dances: Brian Hare and Temporary Proof

Brian Hare (Photo by Cheryl Mann, courtesy of Thodos Dance Chicago)

In "Temporary Proof", Brian Hare sets himself a challenging task: to portray the process of personal development, to shine some sort of light on the many different ways that someone becomes who they are. In casting his study for six dancers, he makes it possible to explore a multifaceted look at a single individual, an individual trying, as Hare expresses it, to "become a more accurate version" of who they are. Although the subject of many works in many forms of art, this is an examination well-suited to Choreography, where Hare uses the emotion that can be so evident in movement to evoke an immediate identification with struggles everyone is familiar with. "One of the most powerful elements in dance is what the human body is capable of," Hare observes, "It's not so much that I'm concerned with presenting the dancers as performers for an audience; it's more as if they are extremely athletic, moving ideas that, through their physicality, express the idea that we are all ever-changing and evolving versions of ourselves."

The Choreography of New Dances: Jeremy Blair and 2:00 AM, Delancey St.

Jeremy Blair (Photo by Cheryl Mann, courtesy of Thodos Dance Chicago)

Balance is always an issue in movement, but in "2:00 AM, Delancy St." Jeremy Blair is concerned with a deeper balance: understanding the differences between what we want and what we really need. To set the background for his look at choices and desires, Blair uses the bleak landscpape of the city -- not the bright, money-to-burn, VIP city, but the nothing-you-don't-need part of the city, the city where people stay out all night, but only because they don't have anywhere else they can be. Balance is always an issue in art, and Blair carefully balances the edgy and the melancholy in his movements as in his soundtrack, implying deep, and sometimes dark questions about choices. When are you working, and when are you just selling your self? What would you do for love, and is it really still love if you would do that? When people are bound to one another, what forces can bind them? Balance is always an issue in life-choices, but what happens when choices already made throw everything that follows out of balance?

The Choreography of New Dances: Jessica Miller Tomlinson and Big Technique

Jessica Miller Tomlinson (photo by Cheryl Mann, courtesy of Thodos Dance Chicago

Jessica Miller Tomlinson was working with Melissa Thodos once when Thodos, while rehearsing a section in one of her works, said "Jess, give me your big technique." If that's a unique way to find the title (and inspiration) for a choreographic work, even more unique is the adventure that Jessica Miller Tomlinson is able to conjure from it. Imagine what can happen when Miller Tomlinson (whose recent independent production with Jacqueline Stewart JMT/JLS featured one inspiring display of artistic confidence after another) does a study dedicated to confidence in art. A remarkable subject for most choreographers to undertake, but Jessica Miller Tomlinson always seems to address subjects that only her uniquely inspired view of the world could imagine, and in "Big Technique" she imagines an inspired tour of the World of Artistic Confidence.

The Choreography of New Dances: Danielle Scanlon and Heart Strings

Danielle Scanlon (photo by Cheryl Mann, courtesy of Thodos Dance Chicago)

Even in the broad landscape of modern choreography, Heart Strings is unusually bold, bold in the deceptively easy way that Danielle Scanlon plays with the most everyday of ideas -- the clothes we choose. Scanlon finds in that common cloth an intricate tapestry, and she uses it like a lens through which she examines the most individual and private of emotions. Set to a three-section soundscape of gentle, sometimes melancholy instrumentals, Scanlon takes a patient and careful look at the far-more-than-material threads that tie us to our past, to what we once wished for, to what never happened or never happened again. In doing so, she also explores one of the most effective of choreographic techniques, the contrast between a common, everyday action, like trying on a piece of clothing, and the extraordinary grace of the dancers' movements. To see Dance on stage is always other-worldly, but when it is interwoven with the ordinary, its transcendence of the routines of daily experience is even more enchanting.

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