By Judy Carmack Bross
The Joffrey Ballet will perform excerpts from Gerald Arpino’s Birthday Variations at Dance for Life August 19th Photo: Cheryl Mann
Victor Alexander and Maray Gutierrez, two of the four Co-Chairs of Chicago Dancers United’s Dance for Life–bursting joyously onto the stage of the Auditorium Theatre on August 19th–told us what to expect from the one-of-a-kind annual benefit event that has showcased more than 50 Chicago-based dance companies for the past 32 years. Created in response to the HIV/AIDS crisis, the multi-company performance has proven that no one better celebrates Chicago dance in all its multiculturalism. One just has to see it to believe the love generated for participating companies from across Chicago, which unite to support their peers by donating their time, energy, and artistry. The result is Lollapalooza-level excitement combined with the spirit of allegiance to the community, and often a nearly sold-out event.
Dance for Life Co-Chairs Victor Alexander and Maray Gutierrez
“For the information of our enthusiastic audiences, Dance for Life is the opportunity to support preventative health care and medical needs for the Chicago dance community. You will watch companies who have never performed for this benefit before, as well as one of our earliest groups, Muntu Dance Theatre, which returns this year,” Alexander said. “And everyone can’t wait for Randy Duncan’s finale, this year a tribute to Dance for Life’s magnificent donor Harriet Ross, the magical end to a perfect celebration. Chicago is a great dance city. Each company has its own goals but great respect for one another. It is clear in Dance for Life how Midwest dancers support each other.”
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago Photo: Danica Paulos
Ted Grady and Dr. Ross Slotten serve as the other Co-Chairs, and dance troupes performing include BOOM CRACK! Dance Company, Chicago Tap Allstars, Giordano Dance Chicago and South Chicago Dance Theatre, the Joffrey Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Hiplet Ballerinas, Muntu Dance Theatre, freelance performers Joseph Massarrelli and Riho Sakamoto, and Moonwater Dance Project.
Muntu Dance Theatre performs Djeliya featuring Lamba, a Mandingue dance which keeps the history and culture intact by playing instruments and singing. It is choreographed by Regina Perry-Carr Photo: Marc Monaghan
Having first met at 15 at Cuba’s Escuela Nacional de Arte, the prestigious National School of Dance, Alexander and Gutierrez work together at Ruth Page where since 2012 Alexander has served both as the Director of the Ruth Page School of Dance and of the Ruth Page Professional Dance Training Program, and Gutierrez is an instructor in modern and contemporary dance and mentor for the School and its Professional Dance Training Program. International artists who have performed frequently in Europe, the Caribbean and the United States, they speak to the worldwide diversity of dance, and have championed Cuban dancers in the US. Their involvement in the Chicago dance community is quite deep as well.
“Our training in Cuba was very rigorous and we had to learn to be complete dancers, learning ballet first, then contemporary and Cuban Dance, all was mandatory,” Gutierrez said. “We came to the United States as the first Cuban dancers to perform at Duke University’s American Dance Festival and learned of Ruth Page from a Cuban friend taking classes there. There were very few Cuban dancers in Chicago when we arrived and now there are several.” Gutierrez has shared her unique energy and movement vocabulary on stage and in film. She has performed with Luna Negra Dance Theater, CDI/Concert Dance Inc., the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and Hedwig Dances, where she was Artistic Associate for 14 years. She was a featured dancer in the dance film, Arch of Repose produced by Hedwig Dances in 2009. Gutierrez was also awarded an Emmy nomination in 2008 for her performance in the PBS documentary of Ruth Page’s 1947 groundbreaking ballet cartoon, Billy Sunday, presented by CDI/Concert Dance Inc. Gutierrez received in 2021 the 3Arts Make a Wave grant, and in 2022 a Dance Leadership Award from Hedwig Dances as did her husband.
Born in Pinar del Rio, Cuba, Alexander was a principal dancer for the prominent Danza Contemporánea de Cuba from 1992 to 2002 before coming to the United States. He has performed with Lyric Opera of Chicago, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Houston Grand Opera, Hedwig Dances, CDI/Concert Dance Inc, and Luna Negra Dance Theater. While with CDI, Alexander was a featured artist in the 2008 Emmy Award-nominated production of the re-envisioned Ruth Page’s Billy Sunday on PBS. While with Hedwig, Alexander was a dance artist in the 2016 Emmy-nominated film Arch of Repose.
Their enthusiasm for the diverse Dance for Life, and their commitment to the dancer’s whole being is emblematic of the August 19th evening itself.
Chicago Tap Allstars Photo: David Harmantas
Moonwater Dance Project Photo: Ren Picco-Freeman
At Ruth Page, Alexander says his role is “to address restructuring to keep the school moving but also to honor the mission and vision of Ruth Page begun some 50 plus years ago,” Alexander said. “For our professional programs for dancers 17 years old and up, a big priority is to keep encouraging them to believe in themselves. We are training not only the body but the soul so that the dancer will be a great human being. Our training allows the student to know what it is like to be a professional dancer. Mornings are all technical, in the afternoons they are working with guest choreographers. We have 15 performances at the Ravinia Dance Festival and they are part of this as well.”
Giordano Dance Chicago and South Chicago Dance Theatre Photo: Anderson Photography
The couple, who show the best in dancing, choreography and community leadership, are not only celebrating Dance for Life but the high school graduation of their son Landro who will be a freshman at the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh.
BOOM CRACK! Dance Company Photo: Michael Mabbo
Dance for Life focuses its fundraising on health care not just for dancers but also for choreographers, costume designers, lighting technicians and all others who work in the field, many of whom don’t have health insurance. Wellness grants and a wide variety of services including mental health and dental bills are included.
Hiplet Ballerinas Photo: Roshawn Lyles
Joseph Massarrelli and Riho Sakamoto Photo: Sasha Gouliaev
For more information about Dance for Life August 19th please visit: chicagodancersunited.org/dance-for-life. For tickets, visit: auditoriumtheatre.org/events-details/chicago-dancers-united-presents-dance-for-life-2023/