Dance for Life Chicago – 26 Years of Spectacular Dance

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Dancer: Noelle Kayser Photo: Todd Rosenberg

I do love a man in a skirt, especially if the skirt is a kilt, and the man is a dancer.  The 26th annual Dance for Life performance on August 19th at the Auditorium Theatre, provided men in kilts and oh, so much more.  My guest and I left the theatre on a high of glorious dancing, gospel singing, and hope.   

The evening was a great snapshot of what Chicago dance has to offer these days, from the lovely tenderness of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago performing Nacho Duato’s Jardi Tancat, to the stark and fierce excerpt from Alexander Ekman’s piece Joy, danced with abandon by the women of The Joffrey Ballet.  

Chicago Human Rhythm Project/Ensemble Espanol Dance Theater/Trinity Irish Dance Company
Photo: Cheryl Mann

The evening began with a percussive bang from Chicago Human Rhythm Project’s tap dancing, Ensemble Espanol Spanish Dance Theater’s Flamenco and Trinity Irish Dance Company’s hard shoe virtuosity. Each company performed a duet and then came together to showcase the amazing ways in which distinct cultures are celebrated by the three companies and what they have in common when it comes to the creation of rhythm.

Visceral Dance Chicago performing Ruff Celts Photo: Cheryl Mann

Three companies performed excerpts of larger pieces, all of which were new to me, and all of which I’m eager to see in their entirety. Visceral Dance Chicago performed an excerpt from Marguerite Donlan’s piece Ruff Celts.  This was my first viewing of this exciting and beautifully trained company and they lived up magnificently to the awesomeness of their name.   This was also the second piece with male dancers in kilts, the first having been from the Trinity Irish Dance Company.  The music, choreography and design of the piece are all rapidly clear.  The dancers moved organically and with tremendous specificity.  These elements also suggested rituals, either as a group or between individuals.  The movement was quirky and athletic and the performers made it all look so effortless.

The Joffrey Ballet performing Joy              Photo:Cheryl Mann




The Joffrey Ballet’s excerpt from the piece Joy, reminded me of other works of art, such as the last scene in Pippin with the stripped stage and performers.  It also reminded me of Balanchine with the spare costuming and loose hair.  I also saw shades of Homer Bryant’s new dance style Hiplet.  The piece begins with the dancers, in just a skin colored bra and underwear, hair worn down and pointe shoes in hand, not on feet, speaking and showing the audience a dancer’s form of a mic drop, the shoe drop.  Then, there’s a transition in which all of the dancers put their pointe shoes on onstage, which is a fascinating glimpse into the backstage life of a dancer.  The choreography has an “I am woman, hear me roar” vibe, most notably in the repeated movement in which the dancers aggressively tapped a toe behind them in unison at the beginning of a phrase.  It was also really nice to see the dancers’ bodies, unencumbered from tulle and and the like.  I struggle with hair being loose on dancers, but it worked quite well here and only added to the fearlessness of the piece.  The excerpt ends with dancers taking their pointe shoes off and dropping their shoes to blackout.  Personally, I didn’t need to introduction to the shoe drop, but understand that some may not be familiar with its meaning.  I can only hope that the opportunity to see the work in its entirety will be in my future.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s Jason Hortin in A Picture of You Falling 
© Todd Rosenberg Photography 2017

The third excerpt of the program was also my favorite piece overall, a second offering from Hubbard Street Dance Chicago.  A Picture of You Falling is a solo section that’s part of the larger work The You Show.  This  was performed by the superb Jason Hortin and it uses the original music composed by Owen Belton to great effect in illustrating how the movement of the body is a reflection of the person, both physically and  emotionally.  The fluidity of Hortin’s body and at times unexpected synchronization of the choreography and the music left me stunned.  It also reminded me of a piece I saw Bill T. Jones perform years ago in which he took a phrase of choreography and talked the audience through his thought process of creating it.  So awesome.

Giordano Dance Chicago’s Devin Buchanan in Can’t Take This Away
Photo: Gorman Cook Photography

The other pieces of the night were all incredible in their own ways.  Giordano Dance Chicago’s gorgeous Can’t Take This Away was sung live by The Bourne Family, which added layers of beauty and urgency to the evening.  Listening to a group like that in a venue like the Auditorium Theatre was truly awe inspiring.  Jessica Miller Tomlinson Choreography performed In Tongues, set to a medley of Talking Heads songs.  The choreography was a great reflection of the band’s quirky style and would have been a great addition to the group’s music videos.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in Jardi Tancat
© Todd Rosenberg Photography 2017

There’s a reason Dance for Life has been around for so long, from its humble beginnings in the Organic Theatre to the majesty of the Auditorium Theatre.  Dance of Life is a great reminder about how much dancers sacrifice for their art and how wonderful the city of Chicago is for embracing its dancers in such a beautiful way.


Jessica Miller Tomlinson dancers performing In Tongues Photo: Cheryl Mann

About Dance for Life

Over the past 25 years, Chicago-based professional dance companies have performed at Dance for Life, supporting and showcasing the city’s unique diversity of talent, dance traditions, and styles.  Dance for Life remains the only annual opportunity for Chicago’s dance community to help those affected by HIV/AIDS.  Additionally, the Dancers’ Fund raises money for those in need within the local dance community itself.  The dancers, companies and choreographers involved generously donate their time, energy, and artistry for the cause.  

About Chicago Dancers United

The mission of Chicago Dancers United is to mobilize Chicago’s dance community to support organizations and dance community professionals dealing with critical health issues through the art of dance; these can include, but are not limited to HIV/AIDS.



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