Set upon a picture-perfect sky on the Fire Island Pines’ glistening Great South Bay, the 25th anniversary edition of Fire Island Dance Festival brought together a diverse, captivating program of world premieres, dance legends and stirring storytelling. The festival on July 19-21 raised a record-shattering $657,842 for Dancers Responding to AIDS, a program of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.
The charitable event of the Fire Island summer included the world premieres of six remarkable works. Since the festival began in 1995, 74 works have premiered at Fire Island Dance Festival.
This exhilarating and incomparable weekend of dance set a fundraising record for the ninth year in a row. In its 25 editions, Fire Island Dance Festival has raised more than $6.7 million to ensure the most vulnerable among across the country have access to lifesaving medications, counseling, healthy meals and supportive housing.
The festival’s six premieres were choreographed by Kyle Abraham, MacArthur “Genius” Grant fellow and artistic director of A.I.M; Al Blackstone, Emmy Award nominee and creator of Freddie Falls in Love, which premieres July 23 at The Joyce in NYC; Michelle Dorrance, MacArthur “Genius” Grant fellow and artistic director of Dorrance Dance; Garrett Smith, celebrated dancer and choreographer; Christopher Wheeldon, Tony Award-winning choreographer of An American in Paris; and James Whiteside, principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre.
This year’s festival was hosted by Tony and Academy Award winner Joel Grey, the original Emcee from Cabaret. Grey strolled onstage at each performance to the iconic opening of “Willkommen,” this time adding his own Fire Island Dance Festival twist: “Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome/To Cabaret, to DRA, I’m Joel Grey.”
The festival featured 10 unique pieces:
The legendary Paul Taylor Dance Company presented Sunset, one of the company’s seminal works that first premiered in 1983. This poignant story of men going off to war and the sweethearts they left behind was groundbreaking as one of the first to share stories of love and loss between two men on stage. This message was just as moving today, resonating deeply with the Pines audiences.
Martha Nichols shared her captivating Motion on Long Island native Jordan Lang of Ballet BC. Lang moved lithely across the stage, alternating between angular isolations and flowing, celestial movements that complimented the cascading waves of the Great South Bay behind him.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater presented Sinner Man, a celebrated excerpt from the company’s lauded masterwork Revelations. The trio of men exhibited unparalleled physicality and technique while tapping into mesmerizing emotional depth as the dancers desperately run toward salvation on Judgment Day.
In shimmering blue costumes that rivaled the bay’s breathtaking sky, American Ballet Theatre soloists Aran Bell and Catherine Hurlin shared the world premiere of Whiteside’s Adagio 1986, paying homage to the iconic adagios of the decade. The piece transported the audience to an ethereal balletic romance as Bell effortlessly and repeatedly lifted Hurlin, allowing her to soar across the stage. Hurlin is the daughter of Dancers Responding to AIDS Founding Director Denise Roberts Hurlin, bringing family and community to the forefront of this year’s festival.
MOMIX, the most presented company in the festival’s history, performed the highly athletic Pole Dance. Three male dancers inventively bounded off poles and seemingly defied gravity to take flight in perfect synchronicity. Set to aboriginal music, the group worked together to catapult each other in a skillful series of acrobatic feats.
American Ballet Theatre soloist Calvin Royal III and A.I.M dancer Tamisha Guy shared a world premiere excerpt of Abraham’s An Untitled Love. The pair sensually matched each other’s soulful rhythms, their lips almost touching at various moments throughout the slow and passionate piece. The complete evening-length work will premiere in 2020.
Garen Scribner seemed to ascend from the depths of the bay when he emerged from behind the stage in the world premiere of Wheeldon’s Sand. Scribner channeled the flowing and unpredictable nature of his lush Fire Island surroundings in this emotive contemporary ballet, as strands of metallic fabric on his costume swayed in the breeze and glistened in the glowing sun. This is the first time Wheeldon has premiered a work at Fire Island Dance Festival.
Tony Award nominee and former New York City Ballet principal dancer Robbie Fairchild traded in his ballet shoes for taps in a charming vocal and dance performance of “Destination Moon,” joined by choreographer Dorrance on ukulele. The world premiere piece then erupted into a fury of fast-moving feet when Fairchild faced off against a team of male Dorrance Dance tappers, culminating in Fairchild falling backwards off the stage into oblivion.
Pacific Northwest Ballet corps de ballet member Christopher D’Ariano and principal dancer Lucien Postlewaite shared the world premiere of Smith’s Continuum. The elegant contemporary piece featured fluid, supportive movement as the pair lifted each other and traveled gracefully across the stage.
Blackstone concluded the show with the world premiere of his Weekend ’76, a celebration of the Pines as an inclusive, euphoric enclave for the LGBTQ community set to disco hits. The piece told the story of a Fire Island weekend in 1976, starting with the excitement-inducing ferry ride to sultry and sexually charged encounters and ending with a spirit-lifting, all-inclusive dance party.
Ephrat Asherie Dance kicked off the festival Friday night with a performance of Odeon, a high-energy exploration of break dance, hip hop, house and vogue, set to a score of samba and Afro-Brazilian rhythms by composer Ernesto Nazareth. This exclusive performance, sponsored by DIRECTV, was part of the opening event for the festival’s Leadership Supporters.
In honor of Fire Island Dance Festival‘s 25th anniversary, a $25,000 grant was made to the Pines Care Center’s rapid HIV and STD testing initiative, which will continue yearly at $7,500 as part of Broadway Cares’ National Grants Program. In 2019, Broadway Cares has awarded $5.8 million to 478 social service organizations across the country.
Fire Island Dance Festival is generously sponsored by DIRECTV, Kikico Property Management, The New York Times, The P. Austin Family Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Sayville Ferry, The SHS Foundation and Walter Boss Custom Builder.
Photos by Daniel Roberts, Scott Shaw and Nina Wurtzel
Video by Daniel Madoff and Victor Rodriguez; highlights edited by Mo Brady
This Year’s Program