BY LAURIE TOTH
Started 27 years ago by a group of dancers who felt helpless during a time when the AIDS epidemic was taking the lives of many brilliant dancers and friends, Dance for Life has always been more than just a benefit—this annual event brings together Chicago’s finest dancers, donating their time, energy, and amazing artistic abilities to “take care of their own,” a priority in this close-knit community.
In 1991 it began with an idea by Keith Elliott, then a member of the Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Theater, to bring the dance communities together for one night to “dance for life.” He asked Harriet Ross, who at the time was the Associate Artistic Director of Joseph Holmes, to bring the event some impact and creativity. About a year later, skilled fundraiser Danny Koppelson was asked to join and along with Gail Kalver, the dynamic, then-executive director of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, and in 1992 the very first Dance for Life, held at the Organic Theater, sold out every seat.
In the years that followed, they performed at the Athenaeum Theater, Skyline Stage at Navy Pier, and Harris Theater before arriving at the Auditorium Theater seven years ago, every year performing to a sellout crowd. Over the years, more than 35 Chicago dance companies have performed and millions of dollars have been raised. This year’s crowd raised a record-breaking $275,000 towards dancers facing medical crises.
Dance for Life honored two amazing dance company leaders this year: Lou Conte, who founded the Hubbard Street Dance Chicago 40 years ago, and Nan Giordano, the artistic director of Gus Giordano Dance Chicago, the daughter of the famed Gus Giordano, who founded the company 55 years ago. It was a real who’s who of the Chicago dance world—if they were not performing, they were in the audience cheering on their friends and associates on stage.
And onstage were members of the founding companies who perform every year to the delight of guests: the Joffrey Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance Co., and Giordano Dance Chicago. The Joffrey performed “Body of your Dreams,” a lively piece about the joys and perils of exercise, while Hubbard Street tackled “The ‘40s,” an amazing early work from 1978 choreographed by Conte. Giordano Dance took on an exciting piece called “Tossed Around” involving chairs: sitting on them, standing on them, and throwing them—very fun!
Four other companies are selected each year to join the founding three. This year, the lucky four included Cerqua Rivera, Nomi Dance, Dance Crash, and Hanna Brictson. Cerqua Rivera, a small but unique company with Wilfredo Rivera (who began his career at Hubbard Street) at the helm as artistic director, danced to Sherry Zunker’s magical choreography. Zunker was a Fosse dancer in her early days! Nomi performed a work choreographed by up-and-comer Joshua Blake Carter and Dance Crash wowed with a high energy hip hop set. Hannah Brictson dancers took their cue from The Righteous Brothers, dancing to “Unchained Melody” in a number called “My Darling” choreographed by Brictson herself.
During the intermission Aretha Franklin music was played in tribute to her life and legacy.
Be sure to add next year’s date to your calendar: Saturday, August 17, 2019. Tickets for the Gala and performance range from $15 to $75, which includes sumptuous grazing tables and drinks at the Conrad Hilton. Tickets for the performance only range from $25 to $100. Hope to see you there next year!