A bright summer sun shimmered across the Great South Bay as renowned dance companies, acclaimed choreographers and three standing-room-only audiences came together at this year’s Fire Island Dance Festival on July 14-16, 2017. The 23rd edition of the fundraising and cultural event of the Fire Island summer raised a record $585,045.
The sold-out festival, in Fire Island Pines, NY, included the world premieres of five works. Since the festival began in 1995, 61 works have premiered at Fire Island Dance Festival.
This exhilarating weekend of dance set a fundraising record for the seventh year in a row. In its 23 editions, Fire Island Dance Festival has raised more than $5.5 million to ensure the most vulnerable among us in New York and across the country have access to lifesaving medications, counseling, healthy meals and supportive housing.
This year’s festival was hosted by beloved Broadway leading lady Cady Huffman, best known for her Tony Award-winning turn as Ulla in the megahit musical The Producers and for bringing her signature sass to the judging table on Food Network’s Iron Chef America.
The festival’s five premieres were choreographed by Al Blackstone, who most recently choreographed the acclaimed off-Broadway hit The View Upstairs; Ronald K. Brown, founder and artistic director of EVIDENCE, A Dance Company; Lorin Latarro, who choreographed Broadway’s Waitress and 2016 revival of Les Liaisons Dangereuses; Pontus Lidberg, a celebrated Swedish choreographer, filmmaker and dancer who founded Pontus Lidberg Dance; and Manuel Vignoulle, a French ballet and contemporary choreographer who has performed and choreographed pieces around the world.
With two performances on Saturday, July 15, and one on Sunday, July 16, the festival featured 10 unique companies that spanned a diverse range of styles from ballet to Broadway.
Havana, Cuba’s Acosta Danza, led by dance legend Carlos Acosta, presented For Us, a mesmerizing ballet that explored the passion, frustration and sadness of a couple in love. Dancers Mario Sergio Elías and Raul Reinoso expressed this tragic love story through graceful, delicate movement as they intimately entwined their bodies, only to ultimately break apart. This landmark performance marked Acosta Danza’s US premiere.
Fire Island Dance Festival favorite Al Blackstone choreographed a sexy and darkly comedic piece set to Prince’s “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore.” When the object of American Ballet Theatre principal dancer James Whiteside’s affection ignores his advances, he rhythmically and methodically eliminates the five men who stand in his path as distractions. The piece elicited nervous laughter as Whiteside flirtatiously and maniacally sauntered, leaped and slayed across the stage in this sultry jazz number.
Makers Dance Company, created by artistic director Alexandre Hammoudi, premiered Tatakai, a piece inspired by the great samurai battle of Sekigahara. Featuring Hammoudi, an American Ballet Theatre soloist, and an ensemble of six members of American Ballet Theatre’s corps de ballet, the warriors exhibited classical ballet bravura, accentuated by the strength of man resisting dark forces and rising above circumstances in triumph. The piece was choreographed by Manuel Vignoulle.
Caleb Teicher & Company presented an excerpt of Meet Ella, an ode to the queen of jazz, Ella Fitzgerald. Brian Lawton and Caleb Teicher created a modern twist to Fitzgerald’s legendary recordings by energetically exploring a range of soft-shoe tap with classic swing movement. This energizing male duo was choreographed by Nathan Bugh and Teicher.
Peridance Contemporary Dance Company shared an excerpt of Dia-Mono-Logues, which was inspired by artistic director and choreographer Igal Perry’s experiences emigrating from Israel to New York City in the turbulent 1970s. Eight dancers expressed internal and external monologues with urgency and elegance, culminating in the moment when the ensemble is liberated, throwing their flowing sheer cardigans into the air.
Pontus Lidberg Dance presented the stirring contemporary piece A Different Passion, in which Barton Cowperthwaite and Pontus Lidberg prop each other up in moments of vulnerability. The pair used the strength of their bodies and beautiful lines in interesting, unexpected ways, as they expressed the pain of heartbreak.
Broadway choreographer Lorin Latarro premiered For Those Before, in which gay men and women reflected longingly on relationships of their youth. A multigenerational cast of nine dancers seamlessly moved between the past and present through stunning movement and exceptional, touching storytelling.
Miami City Ballet presented two pieces. Saturday’s performances featured Chutes and Ladders by Justin Peck, while Sunday’s audience experienced George Balanchine’s “My One And Only” variation from Who Cares?. In Chutes and Ladders, celebrated ballet performers Jeanette Delgado and Kleber Rebello showed refined technique and exquisite partnering in this remarkable piece by the wunderkind choreographer. On Sunday, the effervescent Delgado, in sparkling blue, was matched by the picturesque backdrop of the Great South Bay in one of ballet’s most iconic pieces, set to music by George Gershwin.
EVIDENCE, A Dance Company premiered a solo excerpt from New Conversations: Ochosi Is Here, which will debut next year at Jacob’s Pillow dance festival. The piece, performed by Keon Thoulouis, was inspired by Ochosi, an orisha or god in Afro-Cuban folklore, as he connects believers to justice. The piece expertly combined traditional grounded and rhythmic African dance with contemporary storytelling.
Rashaun Mitchell and Silas Riener, modern dancers who began collaborating after years with Merce Cunningham Dance Company, performed Desire Liar, which premiered at Vail International Dance Festival in 2015. This engaging duet was punctuated with sharp staccato movement. Their effortless ability to flow in and out of synchronicity paired nicely with Brooklyn Rider’s brisk score.
Monica Bill Barnes & Company kicked off the festival on Friday, July 14, with two quirky and uniquely comedic performances, which delighted and thrilled the audience. Surprising gestures in I Feel Like juxtaposed with the vulnerability of Anna’s Interview took the audience on an unexpected journey of emotions. This exclusive performance, sponsored by DIRECTV, was part of the opening event for the festival’s Leadership Supporters.