Dance For Life 2017 @ Auditorium Theatre

4 out of 4 stars

The 26th annual Dance for Life occurred this past Saturday, August 19th at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University. Dance for Life Chicago is the annual benefit dance concert presenting and showcasing the city’s unique diversity of talent, dance traditions and styles by bringing together talented, world-renowned professional dancers from Chicago for one night on the same stage. The dance community unites artistically to support those affected by critical health and other life issues by generously donating their time, energy and artistry to the cause. During the past 25 years, Dance for Life Chicago has presented 33 Chicago-based, professional dance companies and numerous choreographers. Chicago Dancers United, which mobilizes Chicago’s dance community by raising funds through dance, presents this annual benefit performance, which is preceded by a gala reception at the Hilton Chicago.


The auditorium was filled with laughs and smiles as the night was led by the hosts, Carisa Barreca and Kevin Sciretta of The Second City. An introductory video of the preparation to the night from rehearsals to scheduling was well produced and written/performed well. The sketch was filled with cameos from top dancers, as well as Chicago Dancer’s United Executive director, Phil Reynolds. Throughout the night, Barreca and Sciretta navigated the audience’s attention to jokes, promotions, and thanks, while that time during a normal performance would be filled with dead air. The jokes were entertaining and the emcees vigor kept the entire night engaging and lighthearted. Even the audience interaction kept everyone on their toes. The live feed during these segments in the crowd was smooth and excellent quality of camera work and projection, so the entire auditorium felt involved. Very impressed! The Partner Dance Companies that perform each year are Giordano Dance ChicagoHubbard StreetDance Chicago and The Joffrey Ballet. Joining these annual participants this year are Chicago Human Rhythm ProjectEnsemble Español Spanish Dance Theater and Trinity IrishDance Company; Jessica Miller Tomlinson Choreography; and Visceral Dance Chicago. The concert concludes with a celebratory grand finale work choreographed by Randy Duncan to music by Andy Mitran.

The collaboration between  Chicago Human Rhythm ProjectEnsemble Español Spanish Dance Theater and Trinity IrishDance Company to open the night was wonderful! A perfect example of the versatility and cultural routes dances is embedded in by a very traditional example. Rooted in a unique ability to understand each other regardless the differences. With live musical accompaniment, the audience is taken into the definition of each style of dance: singing and the drum for the Spanish dancers, the accordion for the Irish and the upright bass for the Rhythm. The commonality of dance comes to climax as the dancers switch partners and feed off each other. A lovely blend of culture identifying what brings us all together (particularly for this night), dance. 


Giordano Dance Chicago’s 1997 piece, Can’t Take This Away, envelopes one in a visual hymn. Opening on an unlit stage, an acapella prelude shocks the auditorium in its silent awe. The Bournés is a family music group including five sisters, three brothers and their mother possess such pure and clean voices that blemishes of live music that naturally occurs seem almost nonexistent. A beautiful piece flowing seamlessly into each movement. Soft pink lighting and the flowing pants and skirts of Gregory W. Slawko’s costume design enchants. There was dramatic use of rogue toned fabric not only through body movement, but as a prop in the case of blocking or extenuating.  The movement paired with the incorporation of the costume design made this reviewer envision flower petals floating and fluttering across the stage. The strong use of space in Randy Duncan’s choreography creates such a full picture as the scope begins from the singers cloaked in darkness upstage to an explosion of color and movement all the way into the aisles. What a spectacular way to end the first half before intermission with a lovely hymn to finding joy and comfort in a celebration of music and dance.


An Excerpt from A Picture of You Falling from Hubbard Street Dance Chicago is visually paired auditory exploration of a singular instance expanded through movement. Veteran dancer, Jason Hortin’s last performance exemplified the strength and precision it demands to be a performer. The level of physicality Crystal Pite’s work requires is no joke. The sounds and vocals combined into a musical rendition of a scene of potential experiences where one would fall. Doors slamming, wheels screeching, glass breaking all contribute to the remixed voiceover repeating “this is a picture of you falling” and a list of extremities in the order they would hit the ground.  


The world premiere of In Time choreographed by Randy Duncan concluded the night with an intrinsic look at the abstract concept of time. Time functions on an immense scale, yet has the capability of existing intimately by moments. In the program notes, Duncan says “No matter what is at hand, great drama, sadness or joy; time is always moving predictably, methodically, and reliably wrapping all that is.” To achieve a visual representation of this intangible concept, Duncan’s choreography focuses on highlighting the singular verses an ever moving collective. Duets and solos encompassed in the constant lines of dancers across the stage. Shifting moods with the scale of movements from walking, to running, to gazelle like leaps pairs beautifully with the choice in lighting changes. The opening sequence of audible ticks of the clock and the white aesthetic backdrop and costuming is encompassed with smoke, as well as a shifting light through the wings. A surprising and encouraged choice as the dancers’ clean lines and presence on stage becomes the focus. The light in this work is not just manipulated as a tool, but an interactive element to the performance. Margaret Nelson’s lighting design is stunning and seamless as the lighting smoothly mimics and reflects the feelings evoked from the physical movements. Lovely gelled reds and oranges of passions and blues and greens contrasting the white and grey tones symbolizing the ethereal concept of time.


Overall, these are only a few of a night filled with the wonderful pieces showcased on Saturday. The good energy was contagious and made for an incredibly special evening, as the dance community came together to support a good cause. Proceeds from Dance for Life Chicago support The Dancers’ Fund, which provides assistance to members of the dance community coping with critical health and life issues, and the AIDS Foundation of Chicago. The range of work presented highlights the large variety of companies and choreographers that form the dance community. A celebration of its own diversity in a single night and aiding an important cause in order to continue creating beautiful and powerful performances.

Mary Crylen is a photographer and writer based in Chicago. She is an alum of Southern Illinois University of Carbondale with dual degrees in English and Photography. She possesses a sincere passion for the arts and believes zeal shows through work. Follow her on Twitter!