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I’m pretty lucky to have some of the most awesome friends in the world.  Despite her long-suffering BFF status (being run over weekly by my roll-on luggage when we commuted for work to Newark several years ago as I jostled to get on the plane before everyone else; being unwittingly dragged to a more than three hour and a half Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), BFF Debra still graciously invited me a couple of weeks ago to attend an intimate cocktail party that Thodos Dance Chicago was hosting for Ann Reinking.  Thodos, an 18 year old contemporary dance company focused on dance creation and education, was planning to have as its Fall Concert centerpiece a trilogy of rarely revived Bob Fosse pieces staged by, and with additional choreography, by Reinking, who had a close professional and personal relationship with Fosse from the late 1960s until his death in 1987.  I told BFF Debra, even if I was having organ transplant surgery, I would be there, hospital gurney, IV drip and all!  Hey, Reinking is a true-blue, gold-plated Broadway star, having starred in the original productions of A Chorus Line, Goodbye Charlie, and Dancin’, but most notably, she re-created the character of Roxie Hart in the hugely-successful 1996 revival of Chicago opposite Bebe Neuwirth’s Velma Kelly.  Being such a bona-fide, plaque-carrying musical theater queen, I’d be battier than Sarah Palin if I missed this unprecedented evening with a theater legend.  And it was probably one of my most scintillating nights of the year, as Reinking generously regaled the attendees with tales of Broadway and Hollywood (such as her being the last-minute replacement for Liza Minnelli in the original Lincoln Center Encores! concert production of Chicago which was the basis for the Broadway revival – Liza in Chicago?  I nearly popped an artery and dislocated a rib with all my gasping) while comfortably ensconced in a warm Lincoln Park living room on a brisk late fall Saturday evening.  If I already didn’t have my ticket for the Fall Concert, I would have bought one on the spot.

I’ve been to previous Thodos Dance Chicago productions, but I hadn’t seen as big an audience for those shows as I did during the Fall Concert’s first performance at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts a couple of weeks ago (the second performance will be on Saturday, November 28 at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance).  The 867-seat Centre East Theater was packed, and I’m sure many of them were there for the Fosse-Reinking draw.  And that’s a great thing, because the collateral impact was a welcome, impressive introduction to a Chicago performance group that they had possibly never seen before, and which they, hopefully, would like to continue to see more of in the future.  I actually thought the two strongest pieces of the night were in the first part of the show:  Ron de Jesus’ “Departurepoint” performed by six male dancers, was an intriguing take on homoeroticism, with a strong, vigorous, butch, almost competitive masculinity to the male-on-male pairings while Jeremy Blair and Molly Mock’s “Reflect” was a dazzling display of symmetry and athleticism, performed to an energetic composition from ‘ohana and John Nevin called “Hidden”.  Although I liked all the pieces to some extent or another, I wished there were less sprinting around onstage; almost all of the dances included portions when the dancers looked liked they were running 100-meter dashes. 

The Fosse trilogy, which opened the second part of the show, were comprised of three short pieces that were originally performed by Fosse’s third wife Gwen Verdon on the Ed Sullivan and Bob Hope variety shows in the 1960s, with additional choreography from Reinking that allowed the trios dancing each piece to overlap exits and entrances.  Although the dances, “Cool Hand Luke”, “Tijuana Shuffle”, and “Mexican Breakfast”, felt like sketches of bigger dances (but were wholly appropriate for the variety-hour nature of the shows that they were originally created for), Fosse’s singular, unsurpassable genius was still very much apparent.  Oozing with sensuality and insinuations, impressive in their precision, the dances still felt fresh and inspired forty years later and really whetted your appetite for more.  I especially liked “Cool Hand Luke” with its world-weary elegance set to Lalo Schifrin’s marvelous score, and wondered how spectacular it would have been as a longer set-piece (similar to Fosse’s still-startling “Bye Bye Blackbird” number from Liza with a Z).  I thought the Thodos dancers were technically proficient, but a little bit too respectful of the dances.  I wanted a little bit more worldly suppleness, some more playful smolder, a tad more self-awareness which the best Fosse performances brilliantly mix and match.   It was still a huge treat for me though to see these dances, not just as an arts and culture aficionado with a passing interest in dance, but as an incorrigible theater and film geek.  And what made them more resonant were the lovely, inspiring tales that Ann shared about the genius and the man that was Bob Fosse.

I’m pretty confident that Thodos Dance Chicago’s Fall Concert will be the much-needed antidote to the annual Thanksgiving cycle of too much turkey and stuffing, and then too much family drama.  The show runs for one night only on Saturday, November 28, 8 pm, at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph Street.

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