by John Nevin
At composer Bruce Wolosoff’s website, his composition “Songs Without Words (18 divertimenti for String Quartet)” is listed under “Chamber Works”, rather than in the category “Works for Stage”. This is ironic, since two capacity audiences at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance last year watched Thodos Dance Chicago fill the stage with a work that the Chicago Sun-Times would later that year call “The year’s best dance”. That work, “The White City: Chicago’s Columbian Exposition of 1893”, was the product of an inspired series of collaborations, and one of it’s sources was Wolosoff’s composition, whose “Songs Without Words” provided the score for the work.
“The White City” is a one-act ballet, choreographed by Ann Reinking and Melissa Thodos, a richly atmospheric work set at the end of the nineteenth century in Chicago. Although Thodos Dance Chicago has also toured the work extensively, the Harris performances were accompanied live by the renowned Carpe Diem String Quartet, in what was an unusually effective example of how finding (and presenting) just the right music can inspire, inform, and enrich great choreography.
Reinking and Thodos are close friends, and were planning a future work, but expected it to be a suite of short pieces. “A friend of Ann’s introduced her to Bruce Wolosoff, and Ann called me and said the next work we do, we have to do it to this”, explains Thodos. Thodos had recently developed a real interest in the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and had been doing extensive reading and research about it. “There’s a sensibility of Americana in the music — classical, but with a tremendous amount of breadth, because of the way it’s written in eighteen sections.” In many ways, it was these two dynamics — interest in a remarkable historic event, along with an inspiring piece of music, that led the two choreographers to a significant step. “So I said to Ann, what if we do a story?”, and the two embarked on the very complex process whose result is “The White City.” While constructing first the narrative, and then the choreography for the work, Reinking and Thodos gave immense care to finding the ideal musical setting for each phase of the story, “what music would suit what concept and what character”, as Thodos describes it. The result is a multi-textured composition where movement, music, staging and production all move in a compelling rhythm together.
Thodos Dance Chicago will be performing “The White City” again on March 2 and 3 at The Harris Theater in Chicago. For a preview of the remarkable score, Wolosoff’s “Songs Without Words”, peformed by the Carpe Diem String Quartet, is available at Amazon and directly from Carpe Diem String Quartet.
Contributor John Nevin is the Resident Composer and Sound Designer for Thodos Dance Chicago, as well as an independent record producer, and a founding member of the group ‘ohana Dreamdance. In addition to his work as a composer, John works with choreographers and other artists in the sound design for their creative works, and writes extensively about music and dance at aotpr.com