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.
Although collaboration can often expand and transcend individual expression, it's not magic -- everything still has to be made out of something. It may be that the dynamic of understanding, exploring, and even finishing each other's thoughts can dramatically broaden the artistic possibilities, but it has to begin with something. What Reinking and Thodos seem to bring together is a shared understanding, an understanding of how to collaborate, how to include. The success of "The White City" is the way that Thodos and Reinking's collaboration expands to include performance, lighting, video, costumes, staging and music, so that their vision can be intimate or grand, intricate or expansive, or anything that they or the artists they include can imagine.