BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
Co-chairs Mark Ferguson Gomez and Tom Ferguson Gomez told us to expect Chicago’s most multi-faceted and multi-talented dance performance August 17 at Dance For Life, held at the Auditorium Theatre, followed by a gala reception at the Hilton Chicago.
Saying the program is broad and varied is an understatement, we soon learned from the evening’s enthusiastic co-chairs. Short and terrific performances will show what’s best about Chicago dance, with some of the city’s brightest dancers generously donating their time energy and artistry to support their fellow dancers facing critical health issues.
Mark, a former jazz, ballet, and modern dancer, who once performed for Dance For Life, as well as other national venues, told us: “By offering beautiful classical ballet to mind-blowing hip hop, we are aiming for nothing less than an audience filled with exhilaration when they leave the performance and head to the Hilton for drinks and great food. All the dancers will be joining us—having the party afterwards to include the dancers is something new this year.”
Tom, a highly regarded Chicago interior designer and gardener originally from Michigan, noted: “Each performance is on the short side—two to five minutes—so that the audience gets a flavor of Chicago’s professional dance community. We are delighted we are reaching a younger audience as well as welcoming back friends who have attended for years.”
Joining the Partner Dance Companies that perform each year—Giordano Dance Chicago, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, and Joffrey Ballet—are Chicago Dance Crash, Chicago Human Rhythm Project, and Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater.
“The Chicago dance scene is constantly changing as many smaller companies emerge, which are very diverse,” Tom said. “Chicago Dancer’s United is such a positive force in the community.”
Throughout its 28-year history, Dance for Life has presented 37 Chicago-based professional dance companies and numerous choreographers. This annual event was created by Dance United to support local dance community professionals facing severe health crises. The money raised goes directly to the Dancer’s Fund, first created in response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic facing the dance community. The Dancer’s Fund has expanded to include other health and living needs.
The concert features a work in tribute to late dancer, choreographer and instructor Claire Bataille, choreographed by Robyn Mineko Williams. Bataille, one of Hubbard Street’s founding dancers, is also the choreographer and director of the Lou Conte Dance Studio. It concludes with a finale choreographed by Randy Duncan using dancers from all around Chicago.
The Newberry Library featured Dance for Life in its recent exhibition on dance. Alison Hinderliter, Manuscripts and Archives Librarian, told us about how important it was to include this focus:
“The Newberry is happy and proud to house the papers of Dance For Life, which was donated to us in 2016. Dance for Life is a major part of Chicago history, dance history, the history of social action, and the LGBTQ+ community’s history. For that reason it is important to keep and preserve and make those records available for research and exploration.”
For the exhibition “The Legacy of Chicago Dance,” Hinderliter and co-curator Samantha Smith agreed that including materials from the Dance for Life records was a must, revealing the Chicago dance community’s passion, action, and cooperation spanning the early 1990s to today.
“The poster we chose was for the 2016 event and featured dancers from four different Chicago dance companies in spectacular leaps. We felt it was important to let our visitors know about this very vital organization. In addition, we wanted to memorialize the many dancers and choreographers who have died from HIV/AIDS,” says Hinderliter. “The idea of an honor wall was proposed; our exhibitions director suggested an empty stage as a fitting place for people to leave names and messages. Those names that were added on cards for our exhibition have been gathered and kept in the Newberry’s archives, so those people will not be forgotten.”
Mark and Tom Ferguson Gomez, who are co-chairing for the second year, have spent the last nine months planning the performance and gala. Over 30 groups submitted applications to participate and a committee chose the best balance to show the great variety of Chicago dance companies, adding seven or eight smaller companies to the three permanent partners.
When the evening is over, the co-chairs might head out to a class at BeMoved, taught by Sherry Zunker. Mark told us: “The class is jazz forward, but there’s everything from Motown to Bollywood. It’s really a lot of fun for people throughout their lives.”
For further information, visit chicagodancersunited.org.