Standing alone on a Libertyville High School stage, Thodos Dance Chicago founder and director Melissa Thodos tried to put an auditorium full of students in the right frame of mind for the unusual performance that was about to begin.
It's a humorous piece, she said, and she urged the teens to do what comes naturally in humorous situations.
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"If you feel like laughing, by all means go ahead and do so," Thodos said.
So when a dancer in a blue dress and headband entered the spotlight moments later, punched an imaginary time card and began dancing while working at an imaginary assembly-line post, many did chuckle.
The frenetic performance was reminiscent of Lucy and Ethel's classic shift at a candy factory in "I Love Lucy."
"That was actually part of our research for this," Thodos said afterward.
Members of Thodos' company performed an array of pieces for students from Libertyville and Vernon Hills high schools Thursday afternoon. The visit was part of a two-part project that also has a Thodos choreographer working with students in Libertyville High's Orchesis dance company on pieces they will stage later in the year.
"It's pretty special," dance teacher and Orchesis director Eryn Brown said of the artistic opportunity. "It's a source of inspiration for the young dancers who are very talented and very eager to get out there and make their own art."
Thursday's performance was funded by a grant from the District 128 Foundation for Learning. The grant also is helping to pay for the choreographic residency at Libertyville High.
Before and after each piece Thursday, Thodos briefly explained the performances and pointed out noteworthy themes or elements.
One piece was called "Hopelandic" and featured the music of Icelandic rockers Sigur Ros. The name of the dance reflects the interpretive language the band's singer created for their songs.
"Listen to the vocals in this," Thodos said before three dancers in white skirts and tops took the stage. "Think about if there are any words you understand."
Libertyville High senior Carlie Bradley enjoyed the performances.
"It's really helpful," she said. "In dance we hear about how we should express the meaning of the piece through our motions. It's nice to actually get to see it with professional dancers onstage."
Vernon Hills High senior Gabriele Litkauskaite specializes in ballroom and Latin dancing, and she admitted the troupe's modern performances were "out of my comfort zone." But that made the experience even more enjoyable.
"It's great to see because it's so different," Litkauskaite said.