If you’re one of our friends reading DancerMusic in Asia, you may know of a concert called “New Dances”. It’s a very natural way to name a dance concert, a name that’s almost irrestible in its simplicity and clarity, so there may be such a concert or series near you. The same could easily be true if you’re reading DancerMusic in South America or Australia, in Africa or in Europe. Wherever we are, wherever we dance, the beating heart of our art is creativity, so even across North America, you can find many different ideas for concert programs each year that are called ‘new dances’.
But in the Chicago dance scene, “New Dances” has meant something very special for twenty years. Every Spring, from 2001 to 2017, much of the Chicago dance community would gather together around the unique creative festival that Thodos Dance Chicago — one of the city’s leading rep companies — masterminded each year. Melissa Thodos had made it a foundation of her unique company, whose dancers were also choreographers and educators. The choreographers for New Dances were selected from within the Company, and they would join with an annual guest choreographer to cast dancers from across the community, independent artists and members of other companies, who auditioned for the high profile event. Lavish in its support of the design arts that make concert dance so special, New Dances also brought together an especially imaginative coalescence of lighting and costume designers, of score design and original music.
That changed in 2018 — much of the way that New Dances looked on the outside changed. Thodos Dance Chicago, now a project-based company, joined with DanceWorks Chicago’s Julie Nakagawa to reimagine New Dances. Gone were the choreographers who danced together as Thodos Dance Chicago; instead the core of the project became the six company members of DanceWorks, around whom the New Dances ensemble was cast. For the first time, choreographers were chosen by application from the community, and the emphasis on design was reduced. But even though the way that New Dances looked on the outside changed, most of the inner process did not. The same enchantment that happens everywhere in the world of dance, whenever new dance is being made, was as clear in the 2018 and 2019 performance as ever.
New Dances will change again in 2020, and wherever you are in the world of dance, you will certainly know why. With the whole wide world forced to reimagine how we gather in the face of a transnational health threat, New Dances will become a series of virtual, digital, online events. Or at least that’s the way it will look on the outside. On the inside, where choreographers and dancers imagine movement and magic, and defy every new disaster with the power of collaborative goodwill, New Dances promises its same enchantment. Except that for the first time, wherever you find yourself in the World of Dance, from Europe to Oceana, from Asia to Africa to the Americas, you can go to New Dances.
DancerMusic reached out to three artists who each have their own rich creative history with New Dances. Each year, the choreographers of New Dances share their works in progress with a Mentorship Panel who guide and advise their process. This year, that panel was made up of Jeff Hancock, Joshua Manculich and Amy Wilkinson. Amy, Josh, Jeff and I each chose a photo from the New Dances 2017 concert at Chicago’s Athenaeum Theatre, so that we could share our own experience with the inspiring event that is, and will be for some time to come, New Dances.
boldly, unafraid, and together …
This photo is from the end of Hattie Haggard’s Ranch Dressing, which closed the 2017 New Dances performances, and with it, the seventeen performances of New Dances as Thodos Dance Chicago. Having worked with all of these artists, and so many more since the beginning of New Dances, this photo looks to me like everything I’ve learned to love about creativity in concert dance. Not as a group of dancers on stage, but as a group of artists, moving together, looking right at you, ready for whatever they may face next. For me, the moment you see here is emblematic of how best to face any future — boldly, unafraid, and together.
— Johnny Nevin
Jeff Hancock, MFA, performs, teaches, choreographs and designs movement and clothing that moves all over the place. Since 1990, dancing for River North, Hubbard Street, Same Planet and others, his dance and design life collided, supported and informed each other, and shaped his path as a teaching artist. Curiosity about movement and clothing and their mutual influence has fueled his long history of research and exploration.Recent performance: “EX/BODY”, “Of Whales…” with Molly Shanahan/Mad Shak, “Volledig” with Rob Welcher. Recent choreography: “Sword-fighting and Other Things …” with Rob Welcher, “Verge: the edge of chaos and becoming” Northwestern University. (Bio from New Dances 2020 Panelists)
There is no change without awareness …
How do we inspire empathy, generosity, and bravery in ourselves and others? Through what process does vulnerability and risk become reward, community, and generative collaboration? What does hope, cooperation and world building feel like? Growth and art require labor, living in the discomfort of edge spaces, and willingness to sit with the unknown in order to imagine and affect change.
New Dances’ mission has always been fostering new work and new ways of working unique to each artist’s voice. It is this kind of willingness to collaborate and imagine newness that can model ways for us to work together in spaces that move us toward change. Through the collective and singular processes of making and witnessing art we are charged with imagining newness, and harbor these fragile new worlds in our hearts and imaginations. As we notice we become aware. There is no change without awareness. We are rewarded with expanded views of the world and our place in it, and how to affect change by imagining new and better ways to think, be and do.
— Jeff Hancock
Joshua Manculich – born in Windber, PA – is a recipient of a 2015 Princess Grace Choreography Fellowship. His choreographic adventures include: Ballet Austin II, Collage Dance Collective, DanceWorks Chicago, Dancing in the Parks, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company II, Eisenhower Dance Detroit, Grand Valley State University, Houston Contemporary Dance Company, Interlochen, Metdance, Piel Morena Contemporary Dance, Point Park University, Santa Barbara Dance Theater, The Big Muddy Dance Company, Western Michigan University, Visceral Dance Chicago, and Whim W’Him. Josh is a proud alumnus of Thodos Dance Chicago where he danced five seasons and performed works by an eclectic range of dancemakers. (Bio from New Dances 2020 Panelists)
New Dances was a dream come true for anyone wanting to embody a new vision …
The process gifted in New Dances, the time we as choreographers had to play with the visual power of dance inside the supportive environment was one of the largest learning curves I have ever experienced. In other words, New Dances was a dream come true for anyone wanting to embody a new vision or finally bring to life something they had always been wanting to try.
As a result, many alumni of the project go on to succeed within the field of dance. It ignited a fire in many creative souls! I am honored to be an alumni.
— Joshua Manculich
Amy Wilkinson is the Executive Director of the IN/Motion Dance Film Festival. She has performed extensively as a dance artist with numerous companies including Luna Negra Dance Theatre, Same Planet Different World, CDI/Concert Dance Inc., and Thodos Dance Chicago and has presented choreography at national and international venues. Recent projects include collaborations with Mandala Dance Company in Rome, Italy and the International Choir & Orchestra of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Ms. Wilkinson is on faculty at Loyola University Chicago where she makes dance films and is pursuing a PhD in Higher Education. (Bio from New Dances 2020 Panelists)
This year, the need for authentic connections is even more urgent …
This photo reminds me of one of the primary aims of New Dances: Making connections. Back in the day, my experiences as a choreographer allowed me to connect with collaborators and helped me hone my creative process. This year, the need for authentic connections is even more urgent and is highlighted by both the isolation imposed by covid and the community being built through anti-racism movements.
— Amy Wilkinson
Thodos Dance Chicago and DanceWorks Chicago present New Dances 2020 in a week-long series of virtual performances. On Saturday, June 20 at 7pm they will host an online reception, followed at 7:30 by the full New Dances performance.
Each day from Monday, June 22nd through Saturday, June 27, the six New Dances choreographers — Sydney Jones, Drew Lewis, Peyton Winker, Joanna Meccia, Joe Musiel, and Brian Martinez — will host a thirty minute event to present and discuss their work
On Sunday, June 28 at 5pm they will present an encore performance of the full concert.
Full Details of each event and ticket links are available at ThodosDanceChicago.org.
You can learn more about Jeff Hancock from Northwestern University, and in our story 5 Questions with Choreographer and Costume Designer Jeff Hancock About Dance and Design.
You can learn more about Joshua Manculich at JoshuaManculich.com and in our story INSIDE: Joshua Manculich’s “Scenic Route” at DanceWorks Chicago’s “DanceFlight”
You can learn more about Amy Wilkinson at AmyWilkinsonDance.com and in our story 5 Questions With Amy Michelle Wilkinson About the In/Motion Dance Film Festival