Artistic Director and Founder of Thodos Dance Chicago.
“I am a choreographer teacher and director. I am a first generation Greek American and grew up eating the best Greek cuisine in Chicago…. the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” was just like my wedding video. I am passionate about dance and have loved dance all my life.”
About Thodos Dance Chicago
“Breathtakingly athletic,” “powerfully beautiful,” performing “vibrant choreography”are what some critics have said about Thodos Dance Chicago. Thodos Dance Chicago’s mission is to, ” inspire expression through dance, education, dance creation, and dance performance.” The ensemble is made up of artists who choreograph and teach a wide variety of dance forms with innovative choices. This type of innovative dance has lead Thodos Dance Chicago to be a strong presence in American Contemporary Dance. Melissa Thodos is the founder and Artistic Director for Thodos Dance Chicago. Melissa founded the Dance company after being both a successful performer and choreographer with The Chicago Repertory Dance Ensemble, on the local, national, and international contemporary dance circuits. Melissa has won many awards and grants for her work; State of Illinois as a Greek American, Ruth page Award nominations, a Chicago Dance Achievement Award nomination, and Illinois Arts Council Fellowships. She currently serves on the Illinois Arts Council Dance Advisory Panel. One of her most comprised works, “Reaching There”, won an international acclaimed award in Paris in 1988 at the Internationale Dance de Paris. Melissa Thodos was featured as one of Chicago’s 100 Women Making a Difference and voted as one of the “top ten hidden talents” by the Chicago Tribune. Melissa also was one of the final selected participants for the national “Women of Worth” award in New York City. There is no doubt that Melissa Thodos is one of the leading women in the dance circuit of today.
Samantha Ellison: What first got you into dance and was there a moment when you knew that you wanted to be involved with dance for the rest of your life?
Melissa Thodos: I was a really big tomboy growing up and hung out with my older brother a lot. Being raised in a traditional Greek family…my mother took note of this and thought it a good idea to switch out my sport shorts and jerseys for pink tights and a bow, and put me in ballet class at the age of six. I did not like the pink tights, but fell in love with dance and ended up training extensively at The Evanston School of Ballet.
I also studied dance in my after school public high school dance club. It was there that I was given the opportunities to begin to choreograph dance. The program was run by a professional dancer and she ran the club like a professional dance company and I loved discovering the creativity of dance making. I then attended Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs New York and landed my first professional dance contract in Chicago in 1984. I founded Thodos Dance Chicago in 1992 and the Company is turning 21 this year, something that we are all very excited about.
SE: Who were some of your role models growing up?
MT: My dance teachers were my role models. They were professional dancers and it was so special to get to know them as people and see them every day for class, and then watch them weave magic as they breathtakingly performed on stage.
SE:How did Thodos Dance Chicago start and why did you want to start your own dance company?
MT: I founded Thodos Dance Chicago in 1992 and I founded the company because I wanted a platform for my work/choreography. In the early years the Company performed only my work and later when we acquired more financial resources I was able to grow the company in ways that I was hoping to by inviting guest choreographers, developing a platform for my dancers to have their work professionally produced in Chicago , our “New Dances” choreography performance series now in it’s 12th year, and was also able to start a school in which our professional dancers are the teachers.
SE: What was the first piece you ever choreographed and directed?
MT: My first professional piece was presented in Chicago in 1986 and was a solo that I created for myself along with a prop. The prop is a big 5 foot wheel that was designed and constructed by my father who was an engineer. I also worked with a composer and had an original electronic /synthesized score created for the work.
SE: Who are some of the best choreographers you have worked with over the years?
MT: As a dancer: Lar Lubovich, Paul Taylor, Z’eva Cohen, That have guested with my Company: Tony-Award winning Ann Reinking ( we will be performing a special piece by the iconic Bob Fosse and Ann Reinking helped to stage the piece) Shapiro & Smith, Gustavo Ramirez Sansano, Amy Ernst among many other American choreographers.
SE: Looking back on your career so far, what is one of your favorite memories or moments?
MT: I have too many to name. Every year, experience that I have and piece that I create is different and new, as if a new page is turned and more of the story is written and comes to life.
SE: What is “The White City”, about? What do you hope audience members take away from this piece?
MT: Our one act contemporary story ballet “The White City: Chicago’s Columbian Exposition of 1893” is a dance that tells an amazing true story, one that has the brilliance and dark tragedy. “The White City” is true story that changed the history and face of Chicago forever. Chicago was the city selected to host the world’s fair in 1893, immediately following the World’s Fair in Paris where the Eiffel Tower was built. Chicago was under an immense amount pressure to surpass what Paris did it is at the Chicago world’s fair that the Ferris wheel was first invented and unveiled. Over half of the country attended Chicago’s fair and the most amazing inventions were revealed from electricity to the zipper to hot air balloons. The fair was a time of utter brilliance coupled by a time of tragedy as it also carried with it a dark side that had murder in many forms, mystery and intrigue. Our story ballet has a music score by Bruce Wolosoff, film projections by award winning film maker Chris Olsen, where he uses are the original images of the fair ( The Chicago History museum gave us the use of all of their original images for this ballet) costumes of the Victorian era, and lots of great dance that tells a great story. There is also a half hour documentary featured on WTTW/PBS about the making of our dance “the White City titled” Beneath The White City Lights” this will be airing in your community soon and has been nominated for an Emmy Award in cultural documentary division.
SE: How can people join the Thodos Dance Chicago and what does that process look like? How can people find out more information about Thodos Dance Chicago?
MT: Thodos Dance Chicago hosts annual auditions in March and in May. Our audition process is extensive and involves analysis of the technical abilities of the dancer, in addition to teaching the repertory to the attendees and we end with the dancer performing a self choreographed solo to get a sense of the dancer’s choreograph aesthetic. Following that we interview the dancer to learn more about their goals and to see how their goals fit with our mission.
Another great way for a dancer to get to know more about Thodos Dance Chicago is to participate in one of our two annual summer intensive workshops.