Thodos Dance Chicago: New Dances 2011 | Live review

  • From Exurgence, by Jeremy Blair and Mollie Mock

  • Michael McDonald in Jessica Miller Tomlinson�s In Tongues

  • Jessica Miller Tomlinson in Effigy, by Rebecca Lemme

  • From tre-/ter-/tri, by Brian Hare

From Exurgence, by Jeremy Blair and Mollie Mock

Among the years that I’ve watched Thodos Dance Chicago’s annual choreographic workshop, [node:14864807 link=“New Dances”;]—about half of its 11 so far—none have been as broad in concept and in style as this summer’s. Nine company members and guest choreographer Rebecca Lemme have turned out works that are angry, exuberant, concise and confusing. Some were clearly inspired by current trends; others reference distinct pockets of bygone time, as did the company’s [node:247035 link=spring season triumph;], The White City: Chicago’s Columbian Exposition of 1893.

[node:124223 link=As I’ve been saying;], this is no surprise, given that YouTube and [node:94412 link=new direct-download services;] opened access to dance history that no prior generation of choreographers has had.

The most curious and chameleonic Thodos dancer continues to be Jessica Miller Tomlinson, who creates an entire movement universe from scratch for almost every dance she makes. Where most choreographers tinker with and refine their formulas, Tomlinson wears eras and schools like separates.

Her latest, In Tongues, is an homage to David Byrne for five men and bossy, petite Megan Buckley that’s frequently funny and, praise be, subtle. The mess it makes of the stage occasions a wordless epilogue and the witty recall of a maid character briefly seen in the beginning. Vintage Talking Heads songs including “Psycho Killer” and “Take Me to the River” get minced and stitched together a little too roughly, undermining the obvious affection she has for them, but as a sketch, it’s terrific. Brian Hare and guest dancer Michael Gross in particular nail their deadpan deliveries.

Michael McDonald, a new apprentice with the company last season, is the lengthy program’s exciting new voice. His work’s title may not promise much (Clouded Discovery) but its content does, with a wide-angle understanding of composition, well-coached and -conceived movement vocabulary, and fine performances from seven dancers, especially Tomlinson and [node:84392 link=Joshua Manculich;]. McDonald’s program note states that the piece is inspired by recurring circumstances; its walking rhythms, set to “Four Bedrooms” by Lutz Glandien and Peder’s “Timetakesthetimetimetakes,” deliver its shaded moods calmly and directly, without overselling them.

Which is what most of the rest of these artists could stand to develop. In Exurgence, collaborators Jeremy Blair and Mollie Mock present their strongest concept and material yet, but relentlessly vectored toward a flat note of tortured sexiness. Hare’s tre-/ter-/tri, for seven women, is cold and odd; Jacqueline Stewart’s The Art of Ice Cream is a cut above but conflicted and opaque.

Wade Schaaf’s manic closer, Shostakovich Piano Concerto, is the most ambitious offering. Choreographed in a kitchen-sink style of neoclassical ballet and gestural quirks [node:124917 link=à la Jorma Elo;], with fiendishly difficult solos like what Val Caniparoli did to some dancers in the late ’90s, it’s a driving, pure-dance exercise like those regularly premiered and quickly forgotten at large ballet companies around the world. It’s not the kind of work to which these dancers are suited; it’s a bit like watching Star Wars Uncut.

Three lighting designers—Julie Ballard, Jacob Snodgrass and Nathan Tomlinson—work wonders and great variety out of the grid at the [node:31859 link=Ruth Page Center for the Arts;].

As always, Thodos augments its ranks for “New Dances,” with folks off contract from other companies, and freelancers seeking stage time and experience, making it a coming-together for the community as well. Panelists who advised the choreographers in process included [node:165343 link=Hubbard Street Dance Chicago;] director Glenn Edgerton, longtime Mad Shak collaborator Kristina Fluty, and local choreographers Winifred Haun and Anna Sapozhnikov.

Thodos Dance Chicago’s 2011 “New Dances” concludes today at 5pm at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts. From 8–11pm tonight, the company hosts a wrap party and benefit at Mad River Bar and Grille.

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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)