Dancers, perhaps more than any other group of performing artists, have been hit hardest, both artistically and financially, by the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. Not only have they been robbed of the essential ritual of daily classes, rehearsals and live performance, but many of them — who even in the best of times do not have standard salaries and health insurance — have seen their sideline “gig” jobs vanish as well. And a tiny apartment is hardly equipped with the flooring, space and interplay with fellow dancers that is so essential to their art.
So this year’s Dance for Life 2020 event, the annual gala benefit presented by Chicago Dancers United (CDU) — the tax exempt charitable organization that provides invaluable support to dancers and professionals in related fields who are facing critical health issues, as well as those who now need financial assistance with routine medical expenses due to the pandemic — will feature a new virtual format.
The six-day event (Aug. 10-15), will celebrate past performances drawn from its archives, and then will culminate with a world premiere by Hanna Bricston and Dancers on Aug. 15, all available through CDU’s website at chicagodancersunited.org.
The first five days (free of charge, though donations are welcome), will include performances by Dance for Life’s “Partner” companies (Giordano Dance Chicago, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and The Joffrey Ballet), as well as by ensembles (most still vibrant, but several no longer in existence), including Chicago Dance Crash, Ensemble Espanol Spanish Dance Theatre, Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Theatre, Luna Negra Dance Theater, Muntu Dance Theatre, River North Dance Chicago, Thodos Dance Chicago and Visceral Dance Chicago. There also will be a collaborative work by Chicago Human Rhythm Project, Ensemble Espanol and Trinity Irish Dance Company.
According to Robert Neubert, CDU Board President, “the selections will be drawn primarily from the past ten years as those were the performances captured in high definition by HMS Media.”
Bricston’s world premiere (a work in response to COVID-19 that is still being created on dancers from throughout the Chicago area), will be presented on Aug. 15, the date originally planned for this 29th anniversary edition of Dance for Life that was to be staged at the Auditorium Theatre. It will be available for a minimal donation that is still to be determined.
Dance for Life’s annual galas traditionally capture the impressive depth of talent and range of styles that characterize Chicago’s dance scene, as well as the impact the organization has had in supporting artists whose careers are relatively short, brutal on the body, and poorly recompensed. And this year, as live dance performances have been uniformly cancelled, that dual mission could not be more valuable.
Follow Hedy Weiss on Twitter: @HedyWeissCritic