Evanston native Melissa Thodos started her company, now known as Thodos Dance Chicago, with the dream of developing dancers in “a rounded way.”
That meant not only providing opportunities for them to perform, but also to choreograph and teach—a hard-to-find trifecta in the dance world.
As of this year, Thodos has helmed her own mid-sized, contemporary dance company in Chicago for two decades with this unique, three-pronged mission: perform, create and educate. And in doing so, she has ensured that there will be a next generation of dancers and choreographers keeping the art form alive for years to come.
“People always ask me if I always wanted to be an artistic director,” Thodos says. “You can’t know that. You just know you love this art form so much and it brings you so much joy, you want to build an environment where it can happen consistently in the future, and grow, for many, many people—not just artists, but audiences.”
And grow TDC has, since 1992. This year, the company celebrates its 20th anniversary with performances on February 11 and 12 with Luna Negra Dancer Theater at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie, and on March 2 and 3 at the Harris Center for Music and Dance in Chicago, where the company will reprise, among other dances, “The White City: Chicago’s Columbian Exposition of 1893,” a story ballet choreographed by Thodos and Tony Award winner Ann Reinking that was named the #1 in the Chicago Sun-Times’ list of the best dance events of 2011.
As a result of the company’s three-fold mission, its 13 members all hold degrees in dance, and they know dance “is what they want their life’s work to be,” Thodos says. She found her life’s work at an early age, dancing at the Evanston School of Ballet. Though she has toured around the world, she’s always been based in Chicago, which she calls “a hidden secret of dance,” citing the city’s more than 80 dance companies.
Today, TDC performs Thodos’ dances as well as works by acclaimed choreographers such as Lar Lubovitch, Shapiro & Smith, Ron De Jesus and Amy Ernst. “Breathtakingly athletic,” “fiercely complex” and “powerfully beautiful,” are just a few of the ways that critics have described the company’s work over the years. Thodos, who has been choreographing dance for more than 25 years, has presented her works throughout the world and won numerous awards.
“There’s immense satisfaction when you have a thought or an image and you have the tools available to you as an artist to direct a dancer, and work together to create this magic,” Thodos says.
And Thodos is far from the only choreographer in her company. Each year TDC’s artists have an opportunity to choreograph their own pieces for company’s nationally unique “New Dances” program. Over the past 10 years, “New Dances” has provided the framework and support for nearly 100 Chicago-based choreographers and more than 200 Chicago-based dance artists.
“There’s an immense amount of thought and development that goes into the work,” Thodos says, explaining that a professional panel gives feedback to the artists. Many works from “New Dances” have become part of the TDC repertory, while others received productions elsewhere.
And, in addition to educating its artists, TDC provides dance education to the community, including administering the children’s dance curriculum as a resident partner at Chicago’s Menomonee Club for Boys and Girls. That’s also where the TDC leads its Youth Ensemble, which includes more than 100 kids. And Thodos is a member of the dance faculty of the Broadway Theatre Project, hailed by Playbill as the “most prestigious musical theater arts education program for high school and college students.”
“It’s an honor to take life experiences and bring them to the stage,” Thodos says. Her goal for the future is to do with TDC what she always has done with her artists and their work: “Grow it bigger and better.”
For more information about Thodos Dance Chicago, visit thodosdancechicago.org.