By Sharon Hoyer
Dancers, like all professional athletes, suffer their share of injuries. Like all humans, they also suffer ailments, maladies and diseases unrelated to their craft. And like many, many artists and low-to-middle-income Americans, rarely do they have health insurance. And so, each year since 1991, the Chicago dance community has come together to put on a benefit concert for The Dancers’ Fund, an emergency medical fund for dance artists and support staff. What began as an assistance fund for dancers suffering from HIV-AIDS has, over the decades, broadened the umbrella to cover all medical needs and the one-night-only “Dance For Life” concert has collectively raised over $5.5 million for the AIDS Foundation and The Dancers’ Fund.
The cause is reason enough to throw down for a ticket for the August 18 performance, which range in price from $15 for the cheap seats in the Auditorium Theatre, to $650 for prime seats and a gala reception. But for audience members looking to get a survey of the Chicago professional dance landscape, “Dance For Life” is one of the few showcases of its kind. The Big Three of Chicago dance companies—the Joffrey Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance and Giordano Dance—anchor the program each year, but less prominent companies audition to join the bill as well, making for a nicely rounded sampling of styles and flavor. This year’s program includes Hanna Brictson and Dancers, Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre, Chicago Dance Crash and for the first time, Nomi Dance Company.
Laura Kariotis, Nomi founder and artistic director, is excited to bring their work to the Auditorium. “We’re honored to be amongst these companies and choreographers we’ve admired so long,” she says. Nomi just celebrated their ten-year anniversary with a new work by Giordano Dance’s Joshua Blake Carter, a piece that received a warm reception, and Kariotis felt was strong enough for the “Dance For Life” program. For the all-female company, Carter created a piece inspired by his mother, entitled “Kim.”
“It’s apropos for this time,” Kariotis says. “It describes how women have to work harder then men in many industries. It celebrates the passion and strength of women. The dancers were inspired by it and we got great feedback from the ‘Dance For Life’ folks, who want to support women directors.”
Another small and rising woman-led company participating in the show this year is Chicago Dance Crash, a nine-member company that fuses breakdance, hip-hop and acrobatics in a distinctive signature approach to choreography. This is CDC’s second time on the Dance For Life bill—they performed in the program two years ago—but this is the first time a freestyle number will appear in the annual concert, alongside longstanding repertory pieces by legends like Lou Conte (Hubbard Street) and Ray Mercer (Giordano Dance).
“It’s a risk for such a big prestigious show to take on a company like this,” says CDC artistic director Jessica Deahr. “They’ve been taking more chances and breaking bounds of just having polished contemporary. I think they like the energy it contributes to the show.”
Deahr calls the CDC piece isa structured freestyle. “Dancers have heard the track before,” she says. “We set up certain stipulations, like who goes first in sections where we take turns, if we travel in a circle, if people pass over and under one another, who is above or below. It gives a feel to the piece and keeps people safe, but all the moves within it are freestyle. For us, it’s fun to come up with different ways to approach it and as it evolves a theme and message start to develop.”
Two other smaller companies will perform: Hanna Brictson and Dancers, a troupe originally associated with Visceral Dance Chicago, and Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre, which gives equal spotlight to original music and the jazz combo that plays live alongside the dancers on stage. Cerqua Rivera will perform a piece created for them by celebrated Chicago choreographer Sherry Zunker, with original composition by the company’s co-founder Joe Cerqua. Brictson will bring “My Darling,” a piece driven by a pure love of music and movement.
With these seven companies, whose specialties range from pointe to head spins, the “Dance For Life” program promises to be not only a worthy fundraiser, but one of the most eclectic dance concerts of the year.
At the Auditorium Theatre, 50 East Congress, (312)341-2300. Saturday, August 18 at 7:30pm. Gala reception at 5pm. Performance tickets $15-$75, gala tickets plus performance $300-$650. Tickets at chicagodancersunited.org.