On Friday, June 29th, and again on Sunday, July 1, Thodos Dance Chicago and DanceWorks Chicago will present the very latest incarnation of a legendary dance event, NEW Dances. Audiences at Chicago’s Ruth Page Center for the Arts will see a brand new dance company, specially formed for this performance, in works by six choreographers, specially made for NEW Dances.
There’s history here, both recent and more distant. For the past seventeen years, New Dances was presented by Thodos Dance Chicago, with choreography from Thodos Company members, along with a guest choreographer each year. The event featured performances by dancers assembled from across the Dance community, and the intricate and interwoven process, supported at a production level like a main season concert by Thodos Dance, was a showcase of creative community. More distantly, the original New Dances was begun nearly four decades ago, when in 1981, Chicago Repertory Dance Ensemble developed the first version of the idea.
This year marks a new beginning, adding a present and a future to the story of New Dances. Two of the most influential, and most creatively community-aware professionals in Chicago dance — Melissa Thodos and Julie Nakagawa — decided last year to transition the New Dances event to a joint effort by DanceWorks Chicago and Thodos Dance Chicago. The performances feature new works by choreographers Shannon Alvis, Braeden Barnes, Katlin Michael Bourgeois, J’Sun Howard, Chris Johnson, and Anna Long. We asked both Melissa and Julie to let us in on a little more of this story, and here’s what they told us:
Johnny Nevin: This is the third incarnation of New Dances that you’ve been involved with — your own career as a choreographer began with the New Dances program with Chicago Repertory Dance Ensemble, and in 2001 you founded the now legendary Thodos Dance Chicago New Dances that ran for seventeen years. What are you excited about in this new New Dances — what about it reminds you of what was best in the other incarnations, and what about this New Dances seems new and exciting?
The first NEW Dances was performed at the Ruth Page Theater which at the time was a “bare bones” space with no air conditioning, a foot high linoleum stage, no wings, and folding chairs for the audience.
Melissa Thodos: NEW Dances has been a part of the cultural fabric in Chicago for over 30 years having been founded by The Chicago Repertory Dance Ensemble in 1981. It has evolved and grown throughout the years in many ways with the focus of serving the growth of the artist and the enrichment of the community as a constant. I feel so fortunate to have been a part of CRDE and to have begun my creative journey as a professional choreographer in 1986 in NEW Dances. That experience made such a difference in my growth and career and set me on a rewarding creative path. My gratitude for the experience is always with me.
The first NEW Dances was performed at the Ruth Page Theater which at the time was a “bare bones” space with no air conditioning, a foot high linoleum stage, no wings, and folding chairs for the audience. The theater today is a beautifully renovated comfortable space that has received much TLC through the years. Similarly NEW Dances has received increased resources and support of the community, and has grown into a rich and diverse production that celebrates the creative voice in dance in Chicago. In 2001 Thodos Dance Chicago was able to incorporate NEW Dances as an integral part it’s structure. NEW Dances provided choreographic opportunities to it’s Company members: a diverse group of young artists passionate about growing as performers, creators and educators.
Today, NEW Dances has a new, fresh and more encompassing structure than ever as it reaches even further into our rich community of local dancers and choreographers.
As we continue to grow, it is thrilling to look in the rear view mirror and view the project’s growth throughout the years and then turn my eyes to the road ahead in anticipation of the exciting and new possibilities that lie ahead for NEW Dances 2018 in partnership with DanceWorks Chicago.
Today, NEW Dances has a new, fresh and more encompassing structure than ever as it reaches even further into our rich community of local dancers and choreographers. The roster of six choreographers was selected from a submission of over 35 proposals. Dancers were selected by the invited choreographers through audition and the NEW Dances Company of 15 dancers was formed from an audition of 75 attendees. With growth for the artist at the forefront a mentorship feedback panel remains as part of the process and 3 seasoned members of our community were invited to provide feedback to the artists midway through their creative process.
I am so excited to experience the six premiere works created and revealed in our community and brought to life by the dedicated company of dancers selected specifically for NEW Dances.
Join us and be inspired!
Johnny Nevin: Can you give us an idea of how you and Melissa decided to relaunch New Dances together with DanceWorks Chicago? What was it about the idea of New Dances that you found most appealing? Could you also give us a quick sneak peak of what we’ll be seeing at New Dances?
Fast forward to autumn 2017. Melissa and I had a great conversation around our shared values, including interest in identifying and encouraging young artists.
Julie Nakagawa: I was fortunate to be invited to teach warm up classes for New Dances throughout the years and supported the project as an audience member. As I greeted the dancers before class on stage in July 2017, I shared with them that I have always appreciated the opportunity to be part of a project that brings the dance community together and supports new work. After class, I took my seat in the house and enjoyed the Closing Night performance of New Dances 2017, which included some DanceWorks Chicago dancers on stage. At home, I read the program. Thodos Dance Chicago was entering a new chapter, and Melissa was looking for a partner for New Dances. Hmmm…
Fast forward to autumn 2017. Melissa and I had a great conversation around our shared values, including interest in identifying and encouraging young artists. As Evanstonians, we are also committed to supporting local and contributing to the continued vibrance and sustainability of the dance community. DanceWorks Chicago values around cultivating am inclusive next generation of movers and makers, engaging in community collaboration, offering mentorship, and sharing performances which shine a light on dancers and dances makes NEW Dances a natural fit for our organization. Team DWC (board, staff, and artists) are all in! Embarking on this pilot partnership with Melissa and Thodos Dance Chicago has been a wonderful journey and an important next chapter for NEW Dances.
We look forward to welcoming a vibrant audience showing their support of diverse artists and of organizations committed to encouraging unique artistic voices.
Opening Night is coming up on Friday, June 29 (with an Encore Performance on Sunday, July 1). Audiences will see six brand-new works created through this project, danced by a group of fifteen locally-based dancers. Beyond those precious moments on stage, I hope that the audience will gain insight into the artistic journey through post-performance conversation and experience each of the artists exercising their muscle of courage as they strive to grow through embracing the opportunity to integrate something/someone NEW in their process. We look forward to welcoming a vibrant audience showing their support of diverse artists and of organizations committed to encouraging unique artistic voices. What better way to usher in IndepenDANCE Day Weekend?!
Thodos Dance Chicago and DanceWorks Chicago present NEW Dances: A New Generation On Friday, June 29 at 7:30pm and Sunday, July 1 at 5pm, with an Opening Night Reception at 6pm on Friday, all at The Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn St., Chicago, IL 60610. Tickets are available online from DanceWorks Chicago. The Program includes new works by Shannon Alvis, Braeden Barnes, Katlin Michael Bourgeois, J’Sun Howard, Chris Johnson, and Anna Long.