17th Annual Fire Island Dance Festival Raises Record $340K to Fight AIDS
The 17th annual Fire Island Dance Festival in Fire Island Pines on July 16-17, hosted by Tony Award-winning actress and dancer Bebe Neuwirth, paid homage to la dolce vita in post-war Italy with a touch of Harlem street life thrown in for good measure.
This year’s FIDF premiered "Solo for Sy" that featured Cambodian-born dancer Sokvannara Sar. He will perform the piece later this summer at the Vail International Dance Festival in Colorado. DRA producer Christopher Davis said
after the Sunday, July 17, performance that Sar’s appearance at FIDF proves that Fire Island has indeed become a premiere dance venue.
"The fact that the Fire Island Pines got to premiere a dance piece that’s going to be on the international dance scene is quite the coup," he said. "It’s really a community thing."
Founded by former dancers Hernando Cortez and Denise Roberts Hurlin in 1995, the FIDF has raised more than $2 million for Dancers Responding to AIDS, a fundraising arm of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. This year’s festival raised a record $340,445 for the New York City-based organization.
Cortez returned to Fire Island for this year’s FIDF, but Hurlin herself provided one of the most poignant moments of this year’s festival when she acknowledged four men-Ernest Morgan, James Kare, Jeffrey Wadlington and Christopher Gillis-with whom she danced at Paul Taylor who lost their battle to AIDS.
Neuwirth also acknowledged Tanis Michaels, a fellow dancer with whom she worked in a revival of "Sweet Charity" in 1986. Michaels had his own props because he was living with AIDS. "It’s embarrassing at this day in age his props were essentially quarantined," said Neuwirth. "We were ignorant and did not know."
There was speculation that Michaels was to have been dismissed from the cast because of his status. Neuwirth recalled that director Bob Fosse made sure that Michaels remained with the musical. "He [Michaels] did that show eight times a week on Broadway," she said. "That’s a dancer responding to AIDS -with the greatest courage and humility. He’s one of my heroes."
The Paul Taylor Dance Company demonstrated Fire Island-appropriate courtship techniques that can be used in a special "trysting place" in an excerpt of "Brief Encounters." The sheer black undergarments the 10 dancers wore certainly left little to the imagination-and there were undoubtedly more than a few audience members who would have wanted to take one of them into the Meatrack for their own clandestine rendezvous.
Not to be outdone, Dontee Kiehn’s "Ossesioni di estate" or "Summer Obsession" takes place along the Italian Rivera in 1950. Three young Italian women with a strong joie de vivre toyed with a young American soldier who happened to cross their path. A slick Italian man who loosely evoked a young Frank Sinatra, however, faced a far less flirtatious fate at the hands of a persistent Mafioso with a particularly good aim.
Kyle Abraham and Chalvar Monteiro certainly got kiki with their voguing as they dexterously explored masculinity and feminity and sexuality in the black community in "Official Thug." Lady Gaga and her Little Monsters would have almost certainly felt right at home amid Brian Brooks Moving Company’s "We’re Going to Be Cool" that sought to transcend conformational bounds.
Wendy Whelan and Craig Hall of the New York City Ballet brought simple intimacy to the Pines with "Liturgy," while Natiya Kezevadze and Clifford Williams of Complexions Contemporary Ballet portrayed tormented lovers in an excerpt of "On Holiday" they performed at Whyte Hall on Friday, July 15.
Dancers who participated in the FIDF were quick to praise the dance festival-and especially the community that hosted them over the weekend.
"I don’t want to leave," said Samantha Strum, who danced in "Ossesioni di estate" with Zachary Denison, Nikka Lanzarone, Ian Liberto and Mayumi Miguel. "It’s just been beautiful here. It’s been the best experience."
Monteiro added the Pines itself allowed him and Abraham to further delve into the subjects they sought to explore in "Official Thug."
"It actually made me dive deeper into what my character is and how to channel those extremes without offending or making a parody of it," he said.