Thodos Dance Chicago “New Dances 2017” Review- A Vibrant Program Launches 9 World Premieres

From "Ranch Dressing" by Hattie Haggard
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“Amour Dévorant” by Alex Gordon

TDC dancers/creative artists John Cartwright, Abby Ellison, Alex Gordon, Hattie Haggard, Thomas Jacobson, Jessica Miller Tomlinson, Brennan Renteria and Luis Vazquez were mentored during a 3-month new work incubation period by Chicago dance community leaders Margi Coe, Kristina Isabelle, Billy Siegenfeld and Zachary Whittenberg while developing the pieces on the program.


“When in Doubt” by Brennan Renteria

The result was an eclectic span of dances, united by the strong coherence of members who have worked together for a long time. Particularly compelling was the meld of music to choreography, as noted by Sound Designer Johnny Nevin, an artist of almost extravagant diverse gifts, who has written about the difficulties inherent in blending the disparate art forms of music and dance. He commented to this reviewer, “When, as here tonight, you get it right, it all comes together and creates a very different kind of art”.

“Beneath the Clouds, Above the Rest”, by Abby Ellison

The first and last pieces on the program resonated one with the other, both opening with weather-related introductory music and utilizing props. In fact, many of the pieces were set to watery/outdoor themed music. Much use was made throughout the evening of “signatures”: we saw a deal of Nathan Tomlinson’s smoky staging, a lot of casual “street-like” costuming interspersed with some really sexy gear, and within the dances, repeated devices which included hands holding/ touching heads, hands grabbing at selves, and “spastic” movements.

The dances were infused with spontaneity, wit, athletic prowess amid effortless sensuality, and strong partnerings/group work. Some impressions from each piece:

“Berseluk-Belu” by Jessica Miller Tomlinson

“Reception”, choreographed by Thomas Jacobson contained elements of a modern conflicted pas de deux. Amid radical musical changes, from kitsch to house-funk to symphonic to avante-country, with a boombox manipulated onstage, the dance was playful, the movements stark and dynamic.

“Fluid”, by John Cartwright presented 5 male warriors in backless black neo-goth-athletic gear. They posed, leapt, climbed, spun, under 5-ray spotlights. The dance was almost unbearably sultry, and at the same time lyrically beautiful. The music was gladly spiritual, the moves uncanny.

“Fluid” by John Cartwright

“Beneath the Clouds, Above the Rest”, by Abby Ellison involved a suffering man and his devoted shadowing familiar. He is frenetic; she follows him, comforts him, shores him up, untangles him. It’s a love poem in dance, startlingly poignant.

“Benseluk-Beluk”, by Jessica Miller Tomlinson was a 10-dancer piece performed under smoke-filled light on a dark stage. Dancers in gold and white toga gear were wrapped around each other in  ambitious modern duets, in a line as an elongated troupe, forming visionary tableaux. The music was clever and romantic, the performance lustrous and elegant.

“Ranch Dressing” by Hattie Haggard

“When in Doubt”, by Brennan Renteria was danced in front of Broadway-opening floor lights. Men dressed in black frock coats shed to reveal crimson shirts- one a conductor with a baton- and women dressed in spectacular crimson/black beaded and sequined shifts danced a lively, jazzy intricate piece to old-Hollywood musical style tunes.

“Undercurrents”, by Melissa Thodos was a young and lighthearted 7-movement piece to heartwrenching music. An umbrella on stage carried out the watery theme. A feeling of innocence and ingenuity, projected in fluent white costumes, gave way to self-consciousness and spoofery.

“Reception” by Thomas Jacobson

“Siren”, by Luis Vasquez, was performed in muted grey costumes. The dancers appeared as sleepwalkers or prisoners/acolytes, moving slowly in disembodied fashion, then startled and seeming caught in the light.

-“Amour Dévorant”, by Alex Gordon was danced under doubled red and purple lights. First appearing in black and white simple costumes, the dancers ultimately emerge in sensational red leotards shot through with nude fabric. Expansive and gracefully large movements held the audience spellbound.

“Siren” by Luis Vasquez

“Ranch Dressing”, by Hattie Haggard was a whimsical and laugh-out-loud funny piece. A sunshine pillow and cowboy music, dancers mopping water off the stage, dancers dousing each other, dancers grinning good-naturedly in boxer shorts- and one dancer in a coyote mask in a box at house left- helped create a finale filled with good cheer and free from a too-sentimental denouement.

Kudos to: Lighting Designers Erik S. Barry, David Goodman-Edberg, and Nathan Tomlinson for crafting the ambience; Sound Designer extraordinaire Johnny Nevin for meeting choreography to another level of art; Costume Designers Satoe Schechter, Pat Doyle Moriah Lee Turner, Alex Gordon and Nathan R. Rohrer for garbing the movement; and, of course, to the dancers for interpreting the vision with virtuosity and spirit.

“Undercurrents” by Melissa Thodos


All photos by Michelle Reid


Go to Thodos Dance Chicago website for more information.





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