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.
"I think the fact that everyone is friends changes the dynamic," Carrie Patterson observes. Patterson and Alissa Tollefson are premiering a new work entitled "Relativity", a dynamic showcase for five dancers, two of whom (John Cartwright and Kyle Hadenfeldt) are premiering works of their own at New Dances. "It's not like going into an environment where you don't ..." Patterson continues, and in a moment emblematic of the easy collaborative ethic of New Dances, Cartwright finishes her sentence: "Where you don't know anyone. It definitely is nice that we all come from the same Company," Cartwright continues, "and even though in this project, we do have an audition that's open to the the Chicago dance community, I think that in Chicago the dance community as a whole is very together and collective, so it still seems very much like the same community."
"Relativity" is emblematic of that blending of communities, and of the creative impact that the New Dances process brings to its audience. In addition to Thodos Dancers Cartwright and Hadenfeldt, the work features Emily Walen, Katy Kowalski and Jamie Salas. The title reflects both the relationship shared by individuals, and in a purer movement sense, the motion of particles in space. Cartwright describes the intriguing duality of the work's dynamic this way, "I personally see the work in terms of the human interaction," he says, but adds, "As dancers we feel as if we're like atoms or particles moving in space, but then when I'm watching it, I see it in terms of human interactions, the way that people come together for a relationship, or for a creative partnership like this, and then they move away, but they've learned something from that, they've grown in a certain way."
Cartwright's choreography has been featured in the past four editions of New Dances, and this year he premieres a work called "The Quality of a Moment". In classic New Dances tradition, it features Patterson, one of the choreographers he's dancing for in "Relativity", along with Hadenfeldt, Salas, and Stephanie Cihlar. Like so much of what good choreography can do well, "The Quality of a Moment" explores a complex thought, in this case the importance of the focus of an individual moment in time, but does so in the much more accessible languages of movement, music, fabric and light.
New Dances 2013 presents nine new works this year, and like the series' twelve earlier presentations, it brings to its audience an unusually colorful and carefully constructed blend of ideas. The complete artistic freedom that Thodos Dance not only allows, but actively supports for the choreographers leads to an incredibly broad range of inspiration and design, while at the same time, the cohesiveness of the community that puts these performances together somehow always creates an intriguing sense of artistic consistency. Maybe that's why Thodos Dance Chicago's New Dances has been so effective, and for so long.