When you think of the art of dance, what you're likely to think of depends on who you are; the way that dancers and even choreographers are likely to see the art of dance can be quite a bit different from what their audience sees. Most of the time when a dancer or choreographer thinks of the art of dance, they think of performance, perhaps of movement design; their idea of the art will often be very much centered around their own experience. The audience has a better view, though, because as profoundly artistic as movement and performance can be, the art of dance is richer, more involved, and much more complex than that. There's a lot more than just movement on stage; there are costumes and makeup, lighting design and sound, sometimes even original music. There are artists backstage running light boards and mixing consoles, others taking care of the front of house, and still others who's art is publicity or administration.
It brings up an important question about art, and although Heather Trommer-Beardslee never actually asks that question in her new book Dance Production and Management, she answers it thoroughly; the book is both a step-by-step guide for anyone who wants to make art in dance successfully, and a richly insightful study of the art itself. The question she answers, but doesn't ask, is this: is the art of dance what you create, or is it what you share? Is art what you experience when you make it, or is it what you and others, other artists, and especially your audience, experience together? Whatever the answer may be for an individual artist, there can only be one answer for an audience, because an audience can only experience what artists share with them.
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."
Chicago Repertory Ballet's Spring / Summer Performance is exactly the kind of concert that Artistic Director Wade Schaaf was talking about, right after founding the new Chicago based Company in 2012, when he described what the Company intended to do. Schaaf told aotpr.com that the Company's concerts would combine the individual voices of talented independent choreographers (that's the Repertory part) with a new approach to storytelling in dance (that's the Ballet part). Their Spring / Summer Performance at the Vittum Theater in Chicago will feature the Premiere of Schaaf's own one-act work The Rites of Spring, a re-imagined interpretation of Stravinsky's famous score on its one-hundredth anniversary, along with four works by a group of inventive independent choreographers: Jacqueline Stewart, Jessica Miller Tomlinson, Monique Haley and French choreographer Manuel Vignoulle.
Vignoulle has been based in New York since 2009, which is when he left a successful performance career in Europe to join Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, and his work as an independent choreographer has been centered there since moving on from Cedar Lake in 2011 to focus on his rapidly expanding work as a choreographer. His background gives him a large palette of artistic approaches to blend from, having worked both in the introspective, conceptual world of European modernism and in what in some ways can seem the very different contemporary dance culture of North America.
You could definitely say that Penny Saunders and Pablo Piantino have had a front row seat for the making of some of the most important choreography of the last decade, except that if you did, it would actually be a pretty serious understatement. In fact, it's quite possible that neither of them has ever even been in a front row seat, because between them, they've spent seventeen years in rehearsal studios and on stage with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, watching some of the world's most admired choreographers make dances.
Even that underestimates their experience, and the depth of their perspective; before joining Hubbard Street, Piantino danced with the Colón Theatre Ballet Company and the San Francisco Ballet, Saunders with The American Repertory Ballet, Ballet Arizona and the Cedar Lake Ensemble, not counting some very prestigious guest appearances. They've seen, and been seen in, a lot of great dance performances, constructed by great choreographers and great dance companies, so with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and Alonzo King LINES Ballet undertaking an almost unbelievabley ambitious new dance project, their perspective on how it was all put together is bound to be priceless.
"I like to work with process and collaboration," Fernando Melo says, a few minutes after finishing a rehearsal for his new work Walk-In, "because then we realize things we could not have imagined."
Luna Negra Dance Theatre will perform the World Premiere of Melo's Walk-In at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance on October 13, along with a reprise of Melo's critically acclaimed (and massive audience favoroite) Bate and Artistic Director Gustavo Ramírez Sansano's much anticipated 18+1.
Considering how enthusiastic people are about Fernando Melo's choreography, identifying exactly what makes his approach so unique can be surprisingly elusive; his originality can defy description almost as much as it defies expectations. He comes up with such a different take on things that it makes you wonder if Fernando Melo might be the only person around who could have actually reinvented the wheel. Once you've seen some of his work, you start to believe that he probably could have; by now cars and bicycles might all be rolling around on something very different, and probably something better, if he'd put his mind to that instead of choreography.
The Joffrey Ballet's Spring Desire is a richly successful evening; it features three works, "Age of Innocence" by Edwaard Liang, "In the Night" by Jerome Robbins, and the world premiere of "Incantations" by Val Caniparoli. Spring Desire continues this week, from Thursday through Sunday, and ticket information is available at the Joffrey website.
Johnny Nevin wrote about the Joffrey performance here at aotpr.com, and has also taken a much more in-depth look at the making of Edwaard Liang's richly enchanting "Age of Innocence" at 4dancers.org. Here's a video collage of photographs by Herbert Migdoll of scenes from "Age of Innocence".
There's a well-known dance theater whose web site describes with pride -- and justifiably so --- how more than twenty new choreographic works have been commissioned by the space over fifteen or so years. An impressive accomplishment, considering the complexity and challenge of sponsoring and staging even a single new work. It puts into vivid perspective, though, the incredible achievement of the Thodos New Dances series, which in its eleventh year is approaching its one hundredth new work, many of which have gone on to achieve impressive success beyond the New Dances program.
The process that transmutes an idea from experimental to iconic is long and improbable, and a careful look through the program for the ever-more-impressive 2011 edition of New Dances gives some idea of what that process involves. It requires a substantial community of shared enthusiasm, working hard to make everything work successfully.
In a great article called Together With A Gift at 4dancers.org, Kimberly Peterson talks about the latin roots of the word "communiity", which comes from the latin words for "together" and "gift". New Dances 2011 is a community of more than forty dancers, ten choreographers, a distinguished advisor panel, the Thodos Dance Chicago staff and technical organizations, and several independent lighting, sound and costume designers. Over its eleven year history, New Dances has probably been the shared creation of four or five hundred artists, and now regularly performing to packed houses, in its various editions it has played to an audience several thousand people too large to fit in any dance theater. It's an astonishing achievement, of course in the multi-faceted success of nine different choreographic visions, but even more significantly, in the multidimensional gifts shared by the unique community that makes it happen.
Jacqueline Stewart describes Jaxon Movement Arts as "a project-based company that creates dance art inspired by current events and active collaborations with adjacent artistic mediums". The full-length work Dance Gallery 2011 is an especially successful expression of this philosophy. Presented in collaboration with JMT/JLS choreographer Jessica Miller Tomlinson, Dance Gallery 2011 is an embracing journey through the myriad landscapes of artistic collaboration. Naturally, like the JMT/JLS 2010 production that was the first coproduction by the award winning choregraphers, Dance Gallery 2011 moves through the series of unique choreographic visions that Stewart and Tomlinson always manage to conjure. Unique to this project though was the presentation of Concert as Gallery, with each individual work set in a different section of the art gallery-style space. The inevitable interaction between a constantly-moving audience perspective and the inspired performances highlighted ever more vividly the richness of collaborations --- dance, production, design and performance --- woven into the work.
The Thodos Dance Chicago Winter Concert, featuring major new works by Ann Reinking and Melissa Thodos ("The White City: Chicago's Columbian Exposition of 1893") and by multi-talented choreographer Ron De Jesús ("Shift"), has received a very impressive crictical response. The show begins with Reinking and Thodos's work, and in the second act, which closes with "Shift", audiences also get to see the return of two audience and critical favorites from 2010 New Dances series: "Quieting the Clock" by Francisco Avina and Stephanie Martin-Bennet, and "Dancer, Net (Solo 1)" by Wade Schaaf, as well as a second world premiere by Thodos, "Getting There", a sequel to the signature work that began her choreographic career. Here are some excerpts from a few of the reviews:
Hedy Weiss, The Chicago Sun-Times: "The program, whose second act contained four other works of exceptional quality ... is a must-see for anyone intrigued by Chicago history, by the power of dance to spin a story, and by the sight of a dance troupe clearly in the throes of a major breakthrough.
... “The White City” is a sophisticated, utterly involving blend of ingeniously imagined, superbly executed movement (with echoes of everything from “The Green Table” ballet to Broadway’s “Ragtime”); ravishing music (Bruce Wolosoff’s seductive “Songs Without Words,” played thrillingly by the Carpe Diem Quartet, perched in a balcony box); film (clever use of archival material by Christopher Kai Olsen, with deft narration by Chris Multhauf); haunting lighting (by Nathan Tomlinson, whose artistry was on display throughout the evening), and period-perfect costumes (by Nathan Rohrer)."
Accomplishment and serenity are not always traveling companions. The continuous effort that an unending series of challenges and successes demands often occupies most of the space in life that might have been reflection or relaxation. Ron de Jesús knows something about that, because nobody accomplishes what he has without working hard and working a lot. Every line in a long list of credits and awards --- dancing from Hubbard Street to Broadway, work in film, work in theater, choreographing for many of the world's great dance companies --- every credit and every award is its own list of meetings, cab rides, rehearsals, and airports, of meals missed and sleep forgone. On the other hand, you can't create original choreography that is as thoughtful (and thought-provoking) as his unless you can somehow find a way to stop. To look. Or as De Jesús says, "to respect all that this grand, delicate world has to offer".