The early twenty-first-century U.S. is a rough place to be an emerging artist. Or an established one for that matter, as the recession delivers blow after blow to already-overstretched arts funders (see the much-beleaguered Illinois Arts Council, supporter of organizations as large as the Art Institute and small as Strawdog Theatre Company, which lost over 60 percent of its budget in the last three years) and artists are forced to scramble and/or go unpaid to bring their work to the public. Melissa Thodos, founder of Thodos Dance Chicago (one of the lucky IAC grantees to receive their money on time this year), makes fostering new choreographic talent part of her company’s mission, on equal footing with performance and education. This weekend, Thodos Dance’s tenth annual “New Dances” program will premiere works by ten company members—four of whom are making their choreographic debut—along with a stunning new piece by guest choreographers Francisco Avina and Stephanie Martinez Bennitt.
“I believe a dancer becomes a much better dancer if they’ve taught and choreographed,” Thodos said at a rehearsal for New Dances. “It makes them think in very different terms; when you teach, you have to think about what’s important to communicate and how to articulate it. When you choreograph, you have an innate understanding about what it’s like to be on the other side. Dancers come to this organization with a passion to create,” she adds. “When they audition for us, they have a background—they have a sense of who they want to be as an artist.”
“New Dances” was conceived by the now-defunct Chicago Repertory Dance Ensemble, which supported Thodos’ first pro-choreographic endeavors some twenty-five years ago. Thodos got permission to use the name and continue the mission, financing projects in full and opening auditions to the dance community. Emerging artists are given the resources to develop work deeply over the course of three months, receive critique from prominent choreographers and see their vision to completion.
Danielle Scanlon is one of the Thodos dancers making her choreographic premiere and who, like all her fellow company members, spends time teaching dance to K-12 kids as well as performing and developing original work. When asked what she enjoys about participating in the program, the petite, soft-spoken young artist cites the challenge.
“I’m so used to being the one created on. I like the trial-and-error process—explaining what I’d like the dancers to do, then seeing it and realizing, oh, that’s not going to work. Sometimes my dancers will embellish on my idea, it’s nice to have other fun, creative people involved in the process.” (Sharon Hoyer)
At the Dance Center of Columbia College, 1306 South Michigan, (312)369-8330. July 16-18, Friday and Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 5pm. $35.