Dancing in the Light

You don't have to open a vein to give at this Red Cross benefit, just your wallet (and bargain seats are available). The first annual South Florida Dance for Life, an offshoot of Chicago's successful AIDS/HIV fundraiser that originated in 1992, will transfuse the local dance scene while raising funds for those fighting for their lives. Since its inception Chicago's Dance for Life has raised more than $1.5 million, relying annually on steadfast troupes like Gus Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago, the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago, and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. On South Florida's inaugural roster, chosen with an eye toward diversity, are Maximum Dance of Miami, Dance Esaias of Miami Beach, Fernando Bujones's Southern Ballet Theatre from Orlando, Demetrius Klein Dance Company of Palm Beach, and youth from Miami's Inner City Dance Company, not to mention a couple of Hubbard Street members imported for the occasion.

Proceeds will go to the American Red Cross of Greater Miami & the Florida Keys' HIV/AIDS education programs, as well as the newly created South Florida Dance for Life Dancers' Fund for basics like bills, rent, and family visits. "Artists, particularly dancers, can be underinsured," offers event producer Ellen Wedner. When both finances and earning potential are sapped, mere survival becomes a creative endeavor.

But for one night at least, all unexpected twists and turns will be intentional. From Perrine to Orlando, the dance world will gather to honor its past, celebrate its present, and address its future. Tributes to The Jackie Gleason Show choreographer and dance star June Taylor and 92-year-old ballet master Thomas Armour, whose preprofessional Miami Ballet produced numerous principals and lured guest stars like Natalia Makarova and Edward Villella to perform here in the early days, will start the show. A jazzy finale choreographed by New World School of the Arts dance teacher and local performer Paulo Manso de Sousa set to a swinging Benny Goodman tune will unite the performers, all of whom are volunteers. "We want people to walk out happy," explains Wedner of the "quintessentially American" conclusion.

Of course not everything will be. The evening, after all, has been dedicated to Sonia Puopolo, the Miami dance patron and former ballerina who was on one of the hijacked September 11 flights. Native New Yorker Esaias Johnson, who had been preparing one piece for the show, abruptly created another to respond to the attacks; the result, Underbelly, a work for her six multidisciplined dancers, will draw on the teachings of Martin Luther King, Jr. Additionally Demetrius Klein will excerpt from his educational modern work, The History Project; Southern Ballet Theatre will feature The Dying Swan, plus a lighter swing-and-jazz piece; and guests from Hubbard Street Dance Chicago will perform Harrison McEldowney's playful duet Let's Call the Whole Thing Off.

But for Wedner and the other organizers, canceling was never an option, even after September 11. "You just have to have faith and move forward," she says. "Kids will continue contracting HIV. All of the things that existed on September 10 will still exist, and maybe the best thing we can do is to be more cognizant of each other."

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Robin Shear