The story behind the Thodos Dance “THE WHITE CITY”

The White City, the new Story Ballet I’ve been working on with broadway legend Ann Reinking and Chicago choreographer Melissa Thodos, is finally live and on stage!  The show features spectacular direction and choreography from Melissa and Ann, the amazing Thodos Dance Chicago dancers, incredible live music from the Carpe Diem Quartet, awesome period costumes by Nathan Rohrer, brilliant lighting design by Nathan Tomlinson, and over 48 minutes of original film projections by yours truly!  For those of you unfamiliar with the story of  The White City, I thought a little background on our interpretation might be helpful.  And because I can, I’ve included some fun pics of the Thodos Performers in character, to give you a little more context.  Enjoy!

In 1893, Chicago was the fastest growing city in the world, over a million people strong, and The World’s Columbian Exposition (commonly known as The White City, for its brilliant white buildings and Greco-Roman construction) was its Crown Jewel.  Thousands of trains visited the city each day bringing new visitors, and new inhabitants, who were looking for a better life.   Chicago’s Worlds Fair brought opportunity to many… For Carter Henry Harrison, the charismatic and beloved Mayor of Chicago, the White City brought Fame, Glory and Respect, as all the World’s eyes focused firmly upon the midwestern metropolis, and all his people thanked him for it.


Wade Schaaf as "Mayor Harrison" from THE WHITE CITY

Numerous artisans took up residency in the city drawn to the renaissance of form and function occurring within the city, including the brilliant Architect John Root, who was eventually charged with leading the design itself.  His vision for the White City was the driving force behind the most significant construction project of the 19th century, but he was doomed to never see it come to life… He died of pneumonia nearly two years before the fair opened its doors.


Jeremy Blair as "Root" from THE WHITE CITY

Roots inspiration also led to numerous firsts, including the hiring of the first female architect educated in the united states, Sophie Hayden, who would design her first building as part of The White City.  Unfortunately, the process was so ultimately traumatizing, she would never design a building again.


Mollie Mock as "Sophia Hayden" from THE WHITE CITY

The brightness of the White City was such an inspiration, but was not without its share of hardship and darkness too. Thousands of immigrant laborers poured into Chicago looking for work…. And one of these, Patrick Eugene Prendergast, a deeply troubled newspaper distributor, quickly succumbed to the darkness.  His unhealthy fixation upon Mayor Carter Harrison, combined with psychological delusions, led to Prendergast eventually assassinating the Mayor on the eve of what should have been the White City’s triumphant closure.


Josh Manculish as "Prendergast" from THE WHITE CITY

Others, like diabolical serial killer H. H. Holmes, thrived in the shadows, preying upon the many single women who had come to the city with its promises of hope and a better life.  The charismatic Holmes lured as many as 200 unsuspecting women back to his mazelike “Murder Hotel”, where he would imprison them within secret hidden chambers, to suffocate, torture, and kill them in the foulest of ways.  It would be years before his crimes were finally discovered, but once discovered, he was quickly imprisoned, and took his last breath at the end of a noose in 1896.


Brian Hare as "Dr. H. H. Holmes" from THE WHITE CITY

But it is the heavenly allure of the city, the fixations of hope, of art, and of mans capacity for change, as a physical environment that remains firmly ensconced within the minds of man.  And all this began two years before the fair gates opened, back when the great Chicago Architect, John Root, assembled “The greatest gathering of Artists since the 15th Century…” In his living room.


The Thodos Dance Cast of THE WHITE CITY in the Opening Scene: "The Architects"

This is where the Thodos Dance “White City” story ballet begins, as Root must take each idea, ego, and design from the world’s most brilliant architects, and focus them into one coherent vision for what would become the greatest World’s Fair ever seen, THE WHITE CITY.

The show is really spectacular, and tickets are on sale now for the Chicago Premiere, so check it out!

When: 8 p.m. March 4th, 2011

Where: Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph St.

Price: $20-$60; call 312-334-7777 or visit

2 Replies to “The story behind the Thodos Dance “THE WHITE CITY””

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by King and Keck, Chris Olsen. Chris Olsen said: For those of you wanting to learn more about #TheWhiteCity story ballet, I just posted a huge update HERE: ! […]

  2. […] live by the Carpe Diem String Quartet.  (For more info on the show check out Chris Olsen’s “The Story Behind the White City”, or the new Time Out Chicago article from Zac […]

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