As Thodos Dance Chicago (TDC) shifts its structure, embarking on new and exciting projects, it closes out the final performances of the season with New Dances 2017. The New Dances initiative began in 2000 and gives the dancers a chance to switch hats and take a turn at being not only the choreographer, but also the director. “For a three-month period, it’s like they’re running their own company,” said founder and artistic director Melissa Thodos. Along with a “semi-contemporary study of Victorian energy” created for TDC interns by Thodos, eight dancers will premiere new works this weekend.
New Dances has showcased over 150 world premieres in its tenure, some of which have become part of the TDC repertory or gone on to be presented at outside festivals or by other companies including The Joffrey Ballet and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. Each year a panel of mentors from the Chicago dance community advise the choreographers throughout the process. The 2017 mentors are Margi Cole, Kristina Isabelle, Billy Siegenfeld, and Zachary Whittenburg. The collaborative process also brings in professional costume, music, and lighting designers to guide the choreographers and teach them about the production side.
Dancer Hattie Haggard is creating a piece for New Dances for the second time. She submitted her work from last season to the MetDance Emerging Choreographer initiative in Texas and was chosen to create a new piece that premiered last month. “I’m very grateful to New Dances,” she said. “The experience I had last year really allowed me to take the ideas I had in my head and formulate them on stage. For the first time, I felt like what I wanted going in was what I got coming out. It was a nice feeling.”
Haggard, 24, took an interest in choreography in high school and continued to hone her craft in college at Southern Methodist University (SMU) where she earned a BFA in Dance Performance, as well as a BBA in Business. In fact, New Dances mentor Siegenfeld remembers seeing a hip-hop piece she created at SMU. “There were a lot of opportunities to choreograph in school,” she said. “I love performing and I love choreographing and Thodos has been a great place to learn how to teach. Each part of the mission has played a big part of my life the last two years.”
Her piece this year - with the working title Ranch Dressing – is set to cowboy trail songs including Frying Bacon in the Nude. It’s a narrative using light comedy…a theater form of clowning,” said Haggard. “It’s all about how the audience reacts. I use irony a lot of the time. I’m good at making problems on stage to solve, and with comedy, there’s usually a funny way to solve them.” Along with Haggard, other TDC dancers presenting new works are John Cartwright, Abby Ellison, Alex Gordon, Thomas Jacobsen, Jessica Miller Tomlinson, Brennen Renteria, and Luis Vasquez.
TDC finishes work in its current form with summer intensives next month, which is the perfect way to wrap things up before moving forward. “If you look at the year in-full, we’ve gone through our mission in this 25th anniversary season: performance, creation, and education,” said Thodos. “Now we move on to our project-based structure. I’m trying to create more fluidity in my creative life, more flexibility. It feels very organic. Endings are sad, but it’s so right. It opens new doors. Goodbyes make room for hellos.”
Thodos Dance Chicago presents New Dances 2017 on Saturday, July 15 at 7:30 PM and Sunday, July 16 at 3 PM at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport Avenue. Tickets are $14-$40. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 773.935.6875 or visit athenaeumtheatre.org.