Budding choreographers catch a break with Thodos Dance Chicago’s New Dances.
Between the physical strain and the stress of finding enough work to keep body and soul together, a dancer’s life isn’t always an easy one. That’s doubly true for the aspiring choreographer, who rarely has the time or opportunity to exercise that muscle. But with its annual New Dances, Thodos Dance Chicago (TDC) allows selected company members to show what they’ve got.
New Dances originated at The Chicago Repertory Dance Ensemble, where TDC founder Melissa Thodos made her home in the ‘80s and ‘90s. “I thrived there as performer, teacher and specifically as a choreographer,” she says. “CRDE folded in the early ‘90s, and I always wanted this special project, which contributed so much to my creative development, to have a home. With the blessings of the artistic co-directors Tara Mitton and Barbara Stein, I adopted New Dances in 2000 and it’s been growing, building and going strong ever since.”
Dancers participating in this empowering venture develop their work under the guidance of a panel, which this year featured Margi Cole, founder/artistic director of The Dance COLEctive; Brock Clawson, a former TDC ensemble member and New Dances participant whose work has since been seen at the Joffrey Ballet and other companies; Jeffrey Hancock, a founding member of River North Dance Chicago; and Zachary Whittenburg, veteran performer and now communications manager for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. “The panel gives feedback, and a discussion follows in the interest of helping and guiding the artists to meet their choreographic goals,” explains Thodos. “Each panelist attends one of the New Dances performances and provides final feedback once the piece is realized in performance.”
Thanks to that input, Alissa Tollefson was able to get a better handle on the challenges she faced in devising a narrative work set to folk songs. “Each song tells a story in itself, but as the choreographer, I needed cohesiveness in the piece as a whole,” she says. “The panelists helped me with probing questions to further my ideas and create logical transitions between each section.”
For John Cartwright, whose “Flawed” examines “how a relationship can go from calm to chaos,” New Dances is an invaluable experience. “A performer’s career is very short, so taking this chance to choreograph is a way of investing in my future,” he says. “I’m not sure where my career in choreography will go, but I know that because of this process, my knowledge of dance-making has expanded exponentially.”
‘New Dances’: July 18-20, $35/general admission, $20/dancers and teachers; $10/children under 12, Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn. For tickets, call (312) 266-6255 or visit Thodosdancechicago.org