Thodos Dance Chicago (TDC) is a company that’s reached to the far edges of possibility over its 25 years, using oodles of props, creating original story ballets, touring South Korea and Alaska, preserving historical dance works, all the while maintaining a three-pronged mission committed to producing dancers who perform, teach, and choreograph. It’s a big task, being a Thodos dancer, and the pursuit of, well, everything, sometimes muddled the company’s identity. At its core, however, Thodos Dance Chicago is about concert dance. And so it was refreshing to see that on display for the first of its final two performances as an ensemble (artistic director Melissa Thodos is closing the company in August to focus on independent projects) treating guests at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts to six works that reflect backward and forward in a program called “Timeless Motion.”
It might have been easier to simply pull some favorites out of the rep, but TDC is clearly living in the now, presenting two world premieres by Thodos and Brian Enos, a Hubbard Street alum who now serves as artistic director of the St. Louis-based Big Muddy Dance Company. Thodos’ contribution, “Changing Strangers,” opens on two couples, one partner laid across the other. There seems a bit of antiquity to the work – the women wear corsets, the music is Arvo Part’s “Fratres.” At first I thought I simply couldn’t see one more dance set to this music, for it is wholly overplayed, but Thodos’ is an agreeable interpretation of the oft-used score. As the other dancers enter, eight in all, they keep to the theme, remaining broken into twos for the majority of the piece doing what Thodos does best: full stage, gorgeous swirlings and twirlings. The partnering is genderless, with a pair of women, a pair of men, and two man-woman couples working through intricate noodlings into moments of quiet tenderness.
Enos’ “Acid Reign” is the full company closer, a semi-jazzy contemporary piece which revels in nonchalance. “Acid Reign” wants to boogie down, but shows a fascinating level of restraint despite its pulsing techno beat… that is, until the final duet, which railed against the emotional disengagement of the piece with a quite angsty pas de deux for which I felt unprepared. The group whisked them away in the end, with a slow motion running action stage right to left.
Alongside the two premieres were three works plucked from New Dances, Thodos’ long-running in-house choreography project: Briana Robinson’s “Uncovering,” a joyful and somewhat jazzy quartet, John Cartwright’s duet “Flawed,” and last year’s guest artist contribution. Shanon Alvis’ “Sunrise” opened with a literally blinding flash of light, distracting from an otherwise lovely piece – probably. When I stopped mumbling internally over the irresponsibility of using such a bright light, I felt annoyed by Alvis’ choice to characterize the piece’s three women as vulnerable and weak, with the three men positioned as their saviors. In intervals, each woman lost control of her posture – wobbling at the ankles and falling into the arms of her partner, who would then set her upright only to have it to happen again. How this relates to “Sunlight’s” final moments, a beautiful walk upstage toward soft beams of light, is a total mystery to me.
Rounding out the program was Thodos’ “Near Light,” a sentimental, satisfying group work made as a tribute to her late brother, and another quintessential representation of the choreographer’s strength for creating sweeping dance phrases and capitalizing on the use of diagonals. It again tugs at the mood of the evening, celebrating the root of Thodos Dance Chicago, that is grounded in good ole concert dance. March 11 marks the final chance to see Thodos Dance Chicago in performance as an ensemble, 7:30 p.m. at the Auditorium Theatre as part of the venue’s “Made in Chicago” series featuring Chicago-based dance companies. It’s one last opportunity to revisit some of these works, beside a brand new chapter to Thodos’ signature work “Reaching There,” danced with the wheel which first brought her into the public eye.