East Hampton Star

The lush score by Bruce Wolosoff was evocative without intruding on the straightforward timeline of the narrative.

— Angela Allyn. Chicago Stage Standard

Thodos Dance Chicago gave North Shore audiences quite a program last Saturday night—a full length story ballet in the grand tradition of Frederick Ashton and Kenneth MacMillan, a modern dance concert of the first order, all for the price of a single ticket!

The program began with the premiere of A Light in the Dark, a collaborative new work by Anne Reinking and Melissa Thodos that tells the story of the coming together of Helen Keller and her transformational teacher Anne Sullivan. The ballet sheds new light on the relationships and explores the motivations of these historical characters. I did not know that Sullivan had lost a brother. And I had never considered what life with Annie was like for her siblings. It’s fascinating to me that Reinking, who is Broadway Royalty, a lady who puts the muse in musical theater, has returned to ballet to tell this story. She began her career as a scholarship protégé San Francisco School of Ballet and with Robert Joffrey. We are so lucky she loves this city and keeps returning to work here. The Thodos/Reinking partnership is solid and fruitful with this follow up to their first full length period ballet The White City.

The ballet begins with a young Anne caring for her sick brother, then proceeds to her coming to work with Helen, and concludes with the iconic revelation at the well where the flowing water opens a door to understanding.

Alissa Tollefson is magnificent at Anne Sullivan, and Jessica Miller Tomlinson is utterly convincing as the force of unbridled nature that Helen Keller must have been. Brian Hare, as Helen’s brother, gets kudos for poignantly representing what it is like to be the sibling of a child with a disability, when that profound disability threatens to overrun a family. Helen’s parents, played by Cara Carper and Jon Sloven, are loving but overwhelmed by their determined daughter. The period costumes by Nathan Rohrer were richly descriptive and still allowed gorgeous movement. The lush score by Bruce Wolosoff was evocative without intruding on the straightforward timeline of the narrative. Light in the Dark has the hallmarks of an instant classic.

When we return from intermission, the actor dancers have transformed themselves from an ensemble able to clearly represent distinctive individual characters into a supremely gifted modern dance ensemble that moves together like a single organism. The three well crafted works on the bill showcase their ability to work as a team as they swoop and swirl through beautiful and moving dances.

Lullaby, choreography by Brian Enos, is a visually stunning yet simply elegant work that is endlessly watchable. In simple black unitards, the ensemble moves in ever evolving groupings like wisps of dreams. A woman in a beige unitard stands stock still as the others weave around her. She is lulled and rocked and flown. I wished it had been the finale because it was the tightest piece with the most definitive ending.

Next the ensemble introduces quirky gestural flourishes on top of the TDC signature swooping spiraling vocabulary and trajectories with KT Nelson’s Chicago premiere of rest is not always possible. Here the dancers pass and relate in Nathan Rohrer’s street smart clothes that looked like they had been pulled off the rack from across the street at Forever 21. They travel pathways that cross side to side and up and back and they utilize the wall where they look like they might hang out.

Finally, we come to the Chicago premiere of Thodos’ own latest work: Subtle Passages where the ensemble: Cara Carper, John Cartwright, Caitlin Cucchiara, Anne Deutz, Ray Dones, Brain Hare, Joshua Manculich, Jessica Miller Tomlinson, Jon Slove and Alissa Tollefson, brings us to the end of a satisfying evening of rich dance.

A final kudo to company lighting designer Nathan Tomlinson who created distinctive atmospheres for this varied program.

 
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