New Dances 2016 Showcases Talent of Chicago Choreographers

TDC_New Dances 16 image_web_by Cheryl Mann

Thodos Dance Chicago’s New Dances 2016 program, which ran Saturday and Sunday at the Anthenaeum Theater, delivered a mixed bag of performances as eight company members and one guest artist tried their hands at taking the choreographic reins.

While the conceptual thought and hard work of the choreographers shone through in each piece, the pieces varied in their ability to hit their stride and connect with the audience, as might be expected given the nature of the show.

Now in its 16th year, New Dances creates a platform for nascent choreographers to test their work on a professional company–one whose rhythms they are already familiar with. While it can be daunting to test out a new skill in front of one’s peers, New Dances aims to create a supportive environment.

The first piece, Uncovering by Briana Robinson, opened with four dancers moving carefully, as though avoiding streams of hot lava. The movement was intricate and deliberate, greatly informed by the music. The choreography was expansive–at any given time, only two to four dancers graced the stage, but they filled the entire space. The choreography, while not taking many risks, was striking regardless, although I was left wanting more of an emotional connection from the dancers.

The second piece, Residue by Alex Gordon, opened strongly. Three men carried three women in various poses, pictures of strength while the women fell limp in their arms. The choreography itself was interesting and engaging, but the dancers at times fell out of sync. With the intricacies of the partnering and the face-paced movements, this left the piece feeling a bit disjointed, especially as dancers lost their energy in the piece’s third section.

Sunrise, choreographed by Shannon Alvis, was the high point of the show. It started with the dancers moving slowly towards a few, still lights, the costume’s glittering and glinting. The dancers moved as though melting–fluid and purposeful, so subtly that you didn’t realize they had moved until the motion was complete.

The piece was graceful, structured, engaging and beautiful, both in choreography and execution by the dancers.

The fourth piece, Present Voices by John Cartwright and Danielle Gennaoui, ventured into performance art, as the dancers each opened the piece with a signature movement and audible expression. The dancer’s manipulated each other, supported each other, struggled to be heard, and finally found their voices. The choreography was thoughtful, intricate, and intriguing, if at times hard to follow.

The first half closed with the light-hearted Show a Little Taste by Hattie Haggard, taking place in a high-pressure and high-intensity cooking setting with perhaps too many cooks in the kitchen, The piece was playful, silly, and extremely animated. It opened with one dancer still in the spotlight and a chef’s hat.

The order dissolves as the chef pantomimes song and the dancers begin throwing flour into the air, creating wonderful puffs and clouds with their movements. This piece was expertly executed and a lot of fun.

After such a fun ending to the first half, I was slightly disappointed by Brennen Renteria’s On the Greener Side. The piece attempted more musicality in the movement than was there. The dancers didn’t look entirely comfortable with the choreography–almost as if still in rehearsal. Although there was creative use of partnering, overall the piece had low energy and no real connection between the dancers and the movement.

Everywhere But Here by Abby Ellison was technically beautiful, but something was off for me, as if the music and choreography didn’t quit click. At this point, we were more than an hour and a half into the performance–this far in, I wanted to be wowed rather than simply pleased, which may have colored my opinion of this piece.

Next came R.O.C.B. by Jessica Miller Tomlinson. This piece showcased great strength and subtly, well choreographed and well performed. The partnering between two men and one woman was gorgeous. This piece was engaging, even spellbinding at times. For me, it was the highlight of the second half.

The night closed with the upbeat and jazzy Mambo Clap Wozam Slap by Tenley Dorrill. It played with mixing many styles of dance, but unfortunately didn’t deliver. I couldn’t figure out what the piece was trying to be, and the majority of the dancers didn’t appear fully committed.

The choreographers were selected by a panel of members of Chicago’s dance community.They worked with a total of 27 dancers from throughout Chicago.

Thodos Dance enters its 25th season this year.

Miriam Finder Annenberg
Miriam Finder Annenberg