Meeting Thodos Dance Chicago (TDC) company member Diana Winfree in the art room at the Menomonee Club for Boys and Girls, she apologized about the noisy kids in the hallway as we settled down for a chat. “I’m pretty familiar with noisy kids,” I said.
It’s hard to separate a studio visit to TDC from the nostalgia of visiting the Menomonee Club. I spent years walking the long hallway as the director of their performing arts programs, and not much has changed in the building (noisy kids included). TDC, on the other hand, has experienced a nearly complete turnover since my departure. Notwithstanding company veterans Jessica Miller Tomlinson, Josh Manculich and John Cartwright, this is a new company.
New dancers haven’t changed the feel of Melissa Thodos’ company, nor has she wavered in her three-pronged mission to create performance, choreographic, and teaching opportunities for her multi-dimensional dance artists. As one of the longest standing emerging choreographic showcases, New Dances features work from within the company, in addition to one guest artist. If we’re all being honest, the guest artists featured in New Dances aren’t quite emerging, but Thodos admits that the selection is meant to be mutually beneficial. With this season’s selection, Kristina Isabelle has the potential to bring new audiences to Thodos, and vice-versa. It doesn’t hurt that her stunning work pushes the technical and creative limits of its 13 beautiful dancers.
At its core, though, is Thodos’ mission to allow her dancers evolve as complete artists, rather than simply remaining “company dancers”. Diana Winfree is premiering her first New Dances work in this year’s showcase, after having to pull out at the last minute in 2013 due to personal circumstances. She’s created a quartet for four women, and made the difficult choice to dance in her own work after her plan for a trio wasn’t working. Scapegoat (working title) is all about finding people to blame, and its intricate partnering and strong gestures – grasping and manipulating, hands to the heads of self and others – it all alludes to the title before evolving quite naturally over into a lighter place of acceptance over the course of her six minute work. Winfree was quick to acknowledge her dancers and a video camera for the success of the project, and admits that while she would rather not dance in her own work it was a decision that was totally worth it. The Dallas area native has three years of her very first job under her belt, having recently graduated from the University of Oklahoma. She noted the diversity of Thodos’ rep, the opportunity to teach and choreograph, and the support and mentorship of Melissa Thodos as motivation to work for TDC. “If you’re still figuring out yourself,” she said, “this is the place to be.”
Thodos Dance Chicago’s 14th annual New Dances features work by guest artist Kristina Isabelle and TDC company members John Cartwright, Annie Deutz, Tenley Dorrill, Kyle Hadenfeldt, Brandon Harneck, Jon Sloven, Alissa Tollefson, Diana Winfree and Lauren Zimmerer. Performances are Friday and Saturday, July 18 and 19 at 7:30 pm, and Sunday, July 20 at 5 pm at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts (1016 N. Dearborn). Tickets are $20-35, group rates available, on sale now at thodosdancechicago.org or by calling 312.266.6255.
Kristina Isabelle is the subject of Dancin’ Feats in this week’s Windy City Times