East Hampton Star

...ravishing music (Bruce Wolosoff’s seductive "Songs Without Words," played thrillingly by the Carpe Diem Quartet,...

— Hedy Weiss. The Chicago Sun Times

With its Winter Concert 2011, headlined by the world premiere of "The White City" — a collaboration between choreographers Melissa Thodos and Broadway’s Ann Reinking, with directing assistance from Gary Chryst — the Thodos Dance Chicago company has ascended to a whole new level of excellence.

The program, whose second act contained four other works of exceptional quality, debuted Saturday at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts. It is a must-see for anyone intrigued by Chicago history, by the power of dance to spin a story, and by the sight of a dance troupe clearly in the throes of a major breakthrough.

"The White City" is a sophisticated, utterly involving blend of ingeniously imagined, superbly executed movement (with echoes of everything from "The Green Table" ballet to Broadway’s “Ragtime”); ravishing music (Bruce Wolosoff’s seductive "Songs Without Words," played thrillingly by the Carpe Diem Quartet, perched in a balcony box); film (clever use of archival material by Christopher Kai Olsen, with deft narration by Chris Multhauf); haunting lighting (by Nathan Tomlinson, whose artistry was on display throughout the evening), and period-perfect costumes (by Nathan Rohrer). The 45-minute one-act, which unspools in 13 neatly episodic, emotionally revealing scenes, takes us back to Chicago’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, considered one of the greatest of all world’s fairs, as well as a major early confirmation of this city’s world class status.

As wondrous as the fair might have been, it also was streaked with profoundly dark elements, as readers of Erik Larsen’s bestselling 2003 book The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America already know, and the ballet’s creators make the most of this dark side.

One of the Exposition’s chief architects, John Root (a poetic Jeremy Blair), died of pneumonia early on, while the project’s only female architect, Sophie Hayden (the vivid Mollie Mock), never built anything again after the fair. Three days before the fair closed, Chicago’s beloved mayor, Carter Harrison (the towering Wade Schaaf), was the victim of an assassin’s bullet (the role of killer Patrick Prendergast was superbly danced by Joshua Manculich).

In addition, a serial killer, Dr. H.H. Holmes (a truly sinister Brian Hare) operated a gruesome "Murder Hotel," preying on the many single women living in the city at the time. (Jessica Miller Tomlinson is riveting as a victim).

The dynamics among all these characters are captured expertly, as is the enchantment of the crowd (the lovely Danielle Scanlon and her partner, Michael McDonald, are the young lovers, backed by Cara Cooper, Julia Radomyski, Jackie Stewart and Natalie Williams). Throughout, choreographers Thodos and Reinking play on popular dance styles of the period, skillfully fusing them with a distinctive language all their own.

The concert’s second half had much to live up to, and did so brilliantly with the sensual, enigmatic "Quieting the Clock" by Francisco Avina and Stephanie Martinez Bennitt; Thodos' richly whimsical and gymnastic seaside frolic, "Getting There," for three dancers and a giant rolling tube; "Dancer, Net," Schaaf’s sculptural solo for a dancer in a gauzy gown; and the world premiere of Ron De Jesus’ "Shift," a galvanic, perpetual motion dance that sets the dancers spinning and flying like champion ice skaters, and that rightfully left the audience cheering.

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