Most people miss most of what’s in a dance performance, and most photography misses even more. That’s because most of a dance performance is dance, which at its heart is made out of the often boundless creativity of the artists whose movements make choreography, and the unlimited interactions between them that make dance so engaging.
Hattie Haggard recently returned from Houston and the World Premiere of her new piece Are you ‘cading me? by METdance. She’s back in Chicago hard at work on another World Premiere, this time for Thodos Dance Chicago’s New Dances 2017, but here’s a different perspective on the art she has shared with the rest of the dancers at Thodos Dance Chicago.
Thodos Dance has always been notable for the chemistry between its performers, and much of that may have to do with the remarkable New Dances program that Melissa Thodos started in 2002. Since then, many companies have established a yearly concert of pieces choreographed by company members, but very few have the company commitment, production support, and community involvement of New Dances. Because of the uniquely multifaceted collaborations of New Dances, where the roles of dancer and choreographer change as one rehearsal gives way to the next, you can see the complexity of the interactions between dancers on stage even more vividly in a Thodos Dance performance.
With the 2017 (and final) edition of this legendary program just a little over a month away, DancerMusic thought that this would be a great time to take a look at just some of the Thodos dancers’ chemistry. Here are four moments, four out of who knows how many, from the Company’s Winter 2017 Concert. Each of them shows Thodos dancer and choreographer Hattie Haggard with one of the other dancer-choreographers from the company: Alex Gordon, Luis Vazquez, Brennen Renteria and Shelby Moran. We asked Alex, Luis, Brennen and Shelby to give us an idea of what each moment was made of, and here’s what they had to say:
Alex Gordon and Hattie Haggard in Changing Strangers (Choreography by Melissa Thodos)
“I love that the more I dance, the more sensitive I become to movement and the 5 senses.”
Alex Gordon brings many different kinds of depth to his performances. The precision and energy of his movement is part of that, but his performances are always enriched by a dynamic awareness of the energy around him, and by an accomplished actor’s ability to be deeply in character. This photograph is from a sequence of movements in Melissa Thodos’ Changing Strangers, and although it can show only one of the moments in Hattie and Alex’s interaction, it shows a lot of how depth of character makes choreography deeper.
“This piece is called Changing Strangers, choreographed by Melissa Thodos and dancers. Melissa drew on physical contact and partner manipulation when creating the movement. Here Hattie and I share an intimate moment of both physical and emotional contact. I love that the more I dance, the more sensitive I become to movement and the 5 senses. It was great sharing such a moment with such incrediable artist.” — Alex Gordon
Luis Vazquez and Hattie Haggard in Sunrise (Choreography by Shannon Alvis)
“I would watch and allow her movement and energy to flow through me.”
Luis Vazquez can be seamless in transition. Not just in what a choreographer means by a transition, but in the broader sense of the transition from one role to another, from one moment to another. In this moment from Shannon Alvis’ Sunrise you can see how much presence he can bring to a scene just by being in the right spirit for that moment.
“I always loved beginning Shannon Alvis’ Sunrise by observing Hattie’s solo. I would watch and allow her movement and energy to flow through me. In this photo I’m a dancer but also get to be an audience member for Hattie.” — Luis Vazquez
Brennen Renteria and Hattie Haggard in
Changing Strangers (Choreography by Melissa Thodos)
“She and I have always been very organic in how we move and partner together so this was always a favorite part of the dance for me.”
It would be difficult to say if Brennen Renteria is more notable for his energy or his energetic creativity, except that there’s really no separating the two in his performances; each blends seamlessly into the other. This is a very small excerpt from a larger shot of a stage full of performers, which makes it even more remarkable to see the intensity of the focus that Hattie and Brennen share so naturally.
“This is a shot of Hattie and I at the end of Melissa’s work Changing Strangers. She and I actually created that movement that you see in the picture together. We had spiraled down to the floor and she drove over me in a handstand and I was able to suspend her with our faces close together before she rotated away from me. She and I have always been very organic in how we move and partner together so this was always a favorite part of the dance for me.” — Brennen Renteria.
Shelby Moran and Hattie Haggard in
Acid Reign (Choreography by Brian Enos)
“This section was fun because it was the first time we got to dance to the beat together.”
Gracefullness and determination aren’t usually on display at exactly the same time, but in Shelby Moran’s dancing, both of those qualities are always center stage. Watching her with Hattie in this section of Brian Enos’ Acid Reign is even more impressive if you’ve also seen her in her in some of her many other roles, where no matter the context, she’s just as bright, just as engaging.
“This photo came from Brian Enos’Acid Reign. The action unfolds right after the company walks across the stage in runway-like diagonals. I was left to do a short solo and then Hattie and Jessica Miller Tomlinson joined me for our first taste of ensemble dancing. This section was fun because it was the first time we got to dance to the beat together. There was definitely an attitude of confidence and ferocity in the air.” — Shelby Moran
Photos of Alex Gordon, Luis Vazquez, Brennen Renteria and Shelby Moran courtesy of Thodos Dance Chicago.