Pictured: Thodos ensemble members Alissa Tollefson as Anne Sullivan and Jessica Miller Tomlinson as Helen Keller; Melissa Thodos with Ann Reinking. Photos by Cheryl Mann
A WORLD PREMIERE, TSURU, BY HUBBARD STREET'S LUCAS CRANDALL
AND PANEM NOSTRUM QUODITIANUM
("OUR DAILY BREAD")
BY AHMAD SIMMONS, RIVER NORTH DANCE CHICAGO
Leading artists from Chicago's culture scene, Melissa Thodos and Jeanne Gang, have combined their singular talents to create a cross-disciplinary, world-premiere dance that explores the fascinating worlds of-and intersections among-dance, architecture and physics.
The program also boasts the return of TDC's acclaimed story ballet A Light in the Dark, the story of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan, co-choreographed by Melissa Thodos and Broadway legend Ann Reinking; Tsuru, a world premiere by Hubbard Street Dance Chicago's Lucas Crandall; and Panem Nostrum Quoditianum (Latin for "our daily bread") by Ahmad Simmons of River North Dance Chicago.
Two shows only at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 East Randolph Street, Chicago, on Saturday, March 8 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, March 9 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $20-$60; half off for students, seniors and industry. Purchase tickets at the Harris by calling (312) 334-7777 or visiting harristheaterchicago.org.
More about the Thodos Dance Chicago/Studio Gang Architects collaboration
(Photo on right, from left) Thodos Dance Chicago Artistic Director Melissa Thodos and Jeanne Gang at an initial meeting at Studio Gang Architects (photo on right, from left: Jeanne Gang and Melissa Thodos; photos by Claire Cahan).
Melissa Thodos, founder and artistic director of Thodos Dance Chicago, is the only female choreographer in Chicago to have helmed her own mid-sized, contemporary dance company for more than two decades with the unique mission of providing her ensemble dancers a platform to pursue dance as a performer, choreographer and educator.
Jeanne Gang is founder and principal of Studio Gang Architects, recognized as one of architecture's most innovative, well-regarded, and closely watched firms - and one uniquely interested in projects aimed at connecting, enhancing, and restoring urban and natural landscapes.
Studio Gang Architects is designing an interactive structure that combines art and science, tapping into cutting-edge research being performed by physicist Sidney Nagel and the Nagel Group at the University of Chicago.This new process, informally called "jamming," is being used to create vacuum-supported membrane structures with load-bearing properties. Responding to movement and other stimuli, the structure, stage set and dancers will transform into a live study of motion, material, shape, composition and light.
According to Gang, "Studio Gang Architects has long admired the work of Thodos Dance Chicago and its mission to inspire expression. As architects we are interested in how TDC uses the body's physicality and the mechanism of performance to catalyze community and creative discovery. We are thrilled to collaborate with Thodos Dance Chicago on this unique project exploring parallels between the worlds of audience and performer, art and science, movement and stasis."
"Jeanne and her Studio Gang colleagues are true visionaries, and we've so enjoyed bringing our different but not altogether dissimilar creative worlds together with this project," Thodos added. "This collaboration reinforces many facets of Thodos Dance Chicago's mission of inspiring expression through performance, education and creation. This work will reflect the transformative power of dance and design as we blend our visions, fueled by cutting-edge science and the body, light and atmosphere, form and function, and create a brand new environment for our audiences to experience."
More about A Light in the Dark, the story of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan, back by popular demand
Back by popular demand, Thodos Dance Chicago's Winter Concert 2014 will also boast a revival of the company's critically acclaimed smash hit A Light in the Dark, the story of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan. This full-length story ballet, co-choreographed by Melissa Thodos and Broadway legend Ann Reinking, tells the intimate family story of Helen Keller, the extraordinary woman who was deaf and blind yet went on to become a world-famous writer, political activist and inspiration to all, and her teacher Anne Sullivan, who led Helen into a world of education, activism and intellectual celebrity.
A Light in the Dark features original music by composer Bruce Wolosoff, and was created in collaboration with dance legend Gary Chryst, rehearsal and stage direction; Nathan Tomlinson, TDC's resident lighting designer; and Nathan Rohrer, TDC's resident costume designer.
Hedy Weiss, dance critic with the Chicago Sun-Times, named the 2013 debut of A Light in the Dark one of the "Top 10 Dances of 2013," calling it "a feast for the senses...a powerful portrait of the meaning of communication, movement, independence, freedom and love." The Chicago Tribune hailed it as "a visceral illustration of the power of dance to enlighten." Dance Magazine wrote "the choreography weaves a tale with an almost mythic tone that gives us great new insight into Helen Keller's world."
The making of A Light in the Dark was the subject of Shine, a half-hour documentary captured through the lens of Emmy Award-winning Chicago filmmaker Christopher Kai Olsen. The documentary, which debuted on WTTW-TV, Channel 11 last September, will be rebroadcast on Channel 11 on Sunday, February 2 at 2:30 p.m., less than three weeks before the dance is reprised in Skokie and again at the Harris in March.
Thodos Dance Chicago is conducting extensive outreach to Chicago's vision- and hearing-impaired communities by offering complimentary tickets, discounted tickets, and special services including pre-show Touch Tours of the set, live audio description of the performance via two-way headsets, and braille and large-print programs. These services, piloted with great success last year, allow this critically important audience to experience contemporary dance, many for the first time, and in particular this creative retelling of the story of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan through dance.
In addition, Thodos Dance has created Connections, an experiential education outreach component targeting school and community groups that will link the story of Helen Keller, A Light in the Dark and contemporary dance to spur discussions about disability awareness.
A Light in the Dark, the story of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan
Also on Thodos' Winter Concert 2014 program
Internationally established choreographer Lucas Crandall, Rehearsal Director at Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, was tapped by Thodos Dance Chicago to set a new work that also will premiere at Winter Concert 2014. Titled Tsuru, this new full-company work embodies the search to find inner freedom amidst an environment full of adversity, and embraces the idea of the liberation of the soul.
Crandall has been creating works since 1982, and his pieces have been performed in the United States and abroad. Prior to re-joining Hubbard Street earlier this year, Crandall most recently served as a guest teacher for the Ballet du Grand Theatre de Geneve, guest Ballet Master for Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal and Rehearsal Director for Northwest Dance Project.
Making the jump from TDC's New Dances series last summer to the company's official repertoire at Winter Concert 2014 is Panem Nostrum Quoditianum (Latin for "our daily bread") by guest choreographer Ahmad Simmons, a dancer with River North Dance Chicago.
Simmons first caught Melissa Thodos's eye back in 2006 when he was her student at the Broadway Theatre Project in Florida, so they have enjoyed a special connection even prior to his arrival on Chicago's dance scene.
Panem Nostrum Quoditianum is a spiritual, lyrical piece which explores the roots of Ahmad's learning; the dancers experience trust, community and freedom as they challenge their bodies to move beyond the mind. The Chicago Tribune called it "robust in technique and thought-provoking in theme, a sincere, straightforward exploration of spiritual matters in dance, a recitation of 'The Lord's Prayer' boldly part of its accompaniment."
About Thodos Dance Chicago
In 1992, Melissa Thodos, a young Evanston-born, Chicago-based dancer and choreographer, was frustrated with the lack of opportunities for local dancers to work in what in her mind was the obvious environment for any well-rounded dance professional: A place to perform. A place to create. And a place to educate. Fast-forward 20 years, and Thodos is the only female choreographer to have helmed her own mid-sized, contemporary dance company in Chicago for two decades with this unique mission.
Today, Thodos Dance Chicago (TDC) is an ensemble of twelve versatile dance artists with a captivating style that uses a variety of dance forms. The company's unique mission of inspiring expression through dance education, dance creation and dance performance has established Thodos Dance Chicago as an innovative presence in American contemporary dance. Thodos Dance Chicago features the American voice in contemporary dance and has created two critically acclaimed story ballets. In addition to performing works by Melissa Thodos and resident artists, TDC performs a diverse array of works created by other reputable choreographers: Bob Fosse, Ann Reinking, Lar Lubovitch, Shapiro & Smith, Jon Lehrer, Michael Anderson, Zachary Whittenburg, Amy Ernst, Ron De Jesús, Gustavo Ramírez Sansano and KT Nelson. TDC ensemble members themselves also create highly-charged, illuminating world premieres every year in the company's acclaimed New Dances choreography series.
Thodos Dance Chicago ensemble members, who each teach, choreograph and perform with innovative flair, include veterans John Cartwright, Annie Deutz, Elizabeth Dickson, Alissa Tollefson,Kyle Hadenfeldt, Joshua Manculich,Jessica Miller Tomlinson, Jon Sloven and Diana Winfree. New ensemble members this season are Tenley Dorrill, Brandon Harneck and Laura Zimmerer. Laura Gates is the company's rehearsal director and ballet mistress.
Thodos Dance Chicago continues to expand its artistic and institutional boundaries under the guidance of Founder and Artistic Director Melissa Thodos, Executive Director Gail Ford, Grants and Booking Director Rick Johnston, Board President Elaine Rosenfeld Margulis, a dedicated board of directors and administrative staff, and the support of thousands of contemporary dance enthusiasts both in Chicago and nationwide.
The company is supported by the Illinois Arts Council-a state agency, Target, The Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, The Arts Work Fund, The Morrison-Scherer Foundation, The Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation, The Saints and many individual and corporate sponsors.
MacArthur Fellow Jeanne Gang is the founder of Studio Gang Architects, a Chicago-based collective of architects, designers, and thinkers practicing internationally. Jeanne uses architecture as a medium of active response to contemporary issues and their impact on human experience. Her work with Studio Gang is designed to resonate with its specific site and culture while addressing larger global themes such as reuse and sustainability.
With this approach, Studio Gang has produced some of today's most innovative and visually compelling architecture. The firm's projects range from tall buildings like the Aqua Tower, whose façade encourages building community in the vertical dimension, to the Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo, where fourteen acres of biodiverse habitat are designed to double as storm water infrastructure and engaging public space.
Honored and published widely, Studio Gang's work has been exhibited at the Venice Architecture Biennale, the Museum of Modern Art, the National Building Museum, and the Art Institute of Chicago.