Chicago's leading directors weigh in on Dance for Life

August 13, 2014
Windy City Times
Lauren Warnecke

  Chicago's leading directors weigh in on Dance for Life
by Lauren Warnecke

Once a year, Chicago's premiere dance companies gather for a cause.

In 1992, Dance for Life ( DFL ) was founded as an effort to raise money and awareness surrounding the pervasiveness of HIV/AIDS in the the dance community. Co-founders Keith Elliott and Todd Keich conceived a dance show that would raise money for HIV/AIDS and the rest, as they say, is history.

More than 20 years later, Elliott and Keich have scaled back their presence, although Eliott remains involved from afar after moving to Scottsdale, Arizona, earlier this year. The festival is now in the hands of Managing Director Anthony Guerrero, with the support of a large committee of notable dance names from around Chicago.

To date, Dance for Life has raised millions of dollars for 28 service organizations including The Dancers' Fund, an organization that provides emergency stipends to dancers facing unexpected illness or emergencies. The one-night-only gala/performance is now accompanied by year-round initiatives such as Next Generation, a DFL satellite program aimed at getting school-aged children involved in philanthropy.

Fundraising aside, DFL is an opportunity to see Chicago's finest dance companies together in one collective evening. Above all, DFL isn't about ticket sales or audience engagement or whose dancers better than whom. It's about community.

Three of Chicago's leading artistic directors took a moment with Windy City Times to weigh in on the importance of DFL in the dance community, why they participate, and what it means to each of them personally.

Glenn Edgerton, artistic director of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, stated, "I was a dancer in the '80s and I remember the loss that our community experienced. Much about the situation has changed, but we're still dealing with issues stemming from HIV and AIDS—they're still very much present today. For our 35th anniversary last season, we created an evening-length work, One Thousand Pieces, in part to honor all the people who've been part of the Hubbard Street family since the late '70s.

"I chose an excerpt from this piece for the company to perform at Dance for Life this year because I thought it might also represent the magnitude of this crisis, now felt across multiple generations, and in all kinds of communities. I'm glad that we're still coming together each year, as dancers in Chicago, to remember those who've passed on, and to remind ourselves of the work that remains to be done."

Ashley Wheater, artistic director of The Joffrey Ballet of Chicago, said, "In curating this year's program, the Dance for Life Committee decided to represent many forms of dance. Since the Joffrey is a ballet company [rather than contemporary or jazz], we agreed to present one of the classics of the ballet repertoire, George Balanchine's Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux. This is a bravura work, with extremely difficult jumps, turns and lifts. This is a beautiful work, with dynamic music and brilliant partnering.

"We are honored to participate in Dance for Life again this year. Everyone in the dance community is touched by HIV/AIDS. Our own founder, Robert Joffrey, was one of the early casualties of this disease. Our presence at Dance for Life remembers his legacy, and hopefully will support our many friends and colleagues currently living with HIV/AIDS."

Nick Pupillo, artistic director of Visceral Dance Chicago, told Windy City Times, "The Visceral dancers will be performing Impetere, an original work I created for the company in its first season ( 2013 ). I chose this full-company piece because it captivates from beginning to end with great athleticism and power—an energy complementary to the uplifting nature of Dance for Life. I chose to participate because it is a fantastic opportunity to share the stage with our fellow Chicago dancers for a meaningful cause.

"I am moved, as I know the dancers are, by the time and energy our community gives to HIV/AIDS support and awareness through this event. To me, Dance for Life means community. It brings together our dance community, those living with HIV/AIDS, those working in HIV/AIDS care, education, and prevention, and of course our patrons and donors who make the event a success for the beneficiary organizations. It is inspiring and truly demonstrates the power of dance. A good friend of mine has been living with HIV for almost a decade. In this generation, it is fortunate that research and medication allow people like my friend to live happy and full lives."

Also on the program this year for the Aug. 16 event are Giordano Dance Chicago, Ensemble Espanol Spanish Dance Theater, and River North Dance Chicago, with two world premieres by Randy Duncan and Harrison McEldowney & Jeremy Plummer. A 5 p.m. gala reception kicks off the evening at the Hilton Chicago Grand Ballroom, 720 S. Michigan Ave., followed by the 8 p.m. concert event at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University ( 50 E. Congress Pkwy. ). Complimentary shuttle bus service is provided for transportation between the two venues. Tickets are $25-$75 for the performance, or $250-$600 for the gala reception plus premium seating at the performance. To purchase tickets, call 312-922-5812 or visit .

Also of note: Dancer/choreographer Francisco Aviña ( most recently of Lucky Plush Productions ) is in process for a new work titled "A.r.T: Anti Retro Viral Therapy." A.r.T. is a biographical exploration of Aviña's "daily recalibration and personal assessments that gives strength to transfer a positive diagnosis into a positive outlook on life." Produced by High Concept Laboratories, Aviña is developing the work in residence at Mana Contemporary in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, with the premiere to take place Aug. 29-30 and Sept. 4-5. For more information and tickets, visit .

Editor's note: A profile of Aviña will run later this month in Windy City Times.