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Dance Review:

"MELISSA THODOS & DANCERS" at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts


Melissa Thodos, artistic director of the modern dance company that bears her name, has generously stepped aside to let her ensemble members show off their choreographic prowess. Inspired by a successful emerging choreographers’ program at the now-defunct Chicago Repertory Dance Ensemble – where Thodos got her start – she wanted to create a forum for accomplished dancers eager to develop new material. "New Dances 2001," which opened June 8 and runs through June 10, proved to be an exhilarating showcase of multifaceted dance visions.

Paul Christiano stunned and prompted the opening-night crowd at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts to explosive applause, cheers and foot stomping with his transcendent "Miracle, Interrupted" – a complex ensemble piece that incorporates sign language with bold, fluid and athletic movement set to the music of Antonio Vivaldi. While billed as a "work in progress," "Miracle, Interrupted" is a complete emotional, psychological and aesthetically stimulating piece of art – moving from kinetic synchronicity to gorgeous acrobatic contortions in seamless splendor. It is also a powerful vehicle for Christiano’s own malleable technique.

An impassioned dancer-craftswoman, Sarita Smith Childs carries her fierce inner drive and meticulous attention to form to "Throwing Stones," an invigorating solo performed by the anguished and ecstatic Mari Jo Irbe, whose flexible carriage registers despair in every fiber. Set to the music of Andre Previn, Carmen Lundy, Regina Carter and Toni Morrison’s poem, ‘Stones,’ this is a striking portrait of love lost and longed for.

Amy Wilkinson is definitely developing a theatrical style in the tradition of Harrison MacEldowney. Her whimsical "The Girl from Ipanema" – reminiscent of 1960’s TV shows featuring women in Capri pants – has five female dancers moving as one clustered body before opening up into a tip-toe-like playfulness. But the choreographer gets stuck in the realm of loose-limbed quirkiness; she needs to push the retro envelope more.

On the other hand, Wilkinson’s sharp and provocative "Hush" – performed with fearless precision and an urgent sense of mystery by Gail Bianchi, Heather Fraelick, Karen Harmon and Erica Sugar – represents an exciting structural and thematic direction.

Demonstrating an unselfconscious compositional skill, Cameron Jarrett creates a gymnastic and supportive trio for herself, Laura Gates and Wilkinson (all clad in Jarrett’s lovely pink-and-black summer casual wear) in "Into the Gap." In "Two by Two in Blue," choreographer Tim Foster-Ball gets inside the evocative Latin music of Alex deGrassi, Willie & Lobo, Laurence Juber and Jesse Cook. While the piece begins rather conventionally with attitude-laden walks across the stage, it picks up momentum and features stunningly synchronized formations. The work can be more tightly focused; and a more indelible conclusion is needed.

Following a Latin-inspired theme, Altin Naska’s "Impressions" – "dedicated to unrequited love" – modernizes a pained flamenco and tango sensibility. Naska partners Fraelick – two dancers of great skill and emotion – in a duet that verges on melodrama. The inter-locking and enfolding movements are mesmerizing but not fully realized. Yet Naska’s effective images of the real and the imagined give this romantic martyrdom potential for greater subtlety.

Carlos Gonzalez’s "Sangre Azteca" is a thunderous modern-folkloric piece based on ritualistic Aztec dances honoring Huitzilopochtli, the war and sun god. It’s a rigorous and symbolic work one rarely finds on a contemporary dance program. Shana Ortiz’s red-and-gold warrior costumes set the stage ablaze in sensual grace and fervor. The movements are solid and forceful as dancers Gonzalez, Christiano, Fraelick, Naska, Laura Gates and Jeff Ludwig enact this sacrificial dance with a combination of reverence, brutality and beauty.•

Melissa Thodos & Dancers’ "New Dances 2001" runs through June 10 at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn. Tickets: $12-$15. Call 773-404-6871.

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