I recently came across a fairly interesting commentary on Huffington Post about the economics of arts organizations, and how they too often blame the economy for the underfunding that ultimately leads to dismal numbers and low turnout. It's coincidental that I was already thinking about how the wheels turn inside the Chicago Dancing Festival, which kicks off this week.
The 7th annual festival opens tomorrow with a stellar lineup. The highly anticipated week of performances will feature 13 different dance companies, from visiting companies like Alvin Ailey to our very own Joffrey Ballet and Hubbard Street. The festival's co-directors, Lar Lubovitch and Jay Franke, have turned the annual dance showcase into a wildly successful festival, and the only free festival of its kind in the U.S.
Since its beginnings in 2007, the festival has grown from seven performing companies to 13. They have partnered with Chicago's top venues--Auditorium Theatre, Harris Theater, Museum of Modern Art--to put on the highest caliber performances. CDF and its founders are fortunate to have a Mayor that cares deeply about the future of dance in Chicago, and one that knows "how to do a proper plie," Franke's words, not mine. It's clear that CDF is one of a kind because the city of Chicago--and by that I mean local government and many more organizations, businesses and individuals within the city limits--make it possible.
Its "free" status opens the doors of dance and the arts to thousands of people who can't afford tickets to shows or may not have the time or interest to seek out performances on their own. CDF has carved out nearly a week of Chicago's summer schedule to emphasize the importance of the arts in our city, and the dance community has made it clear that it won't go unnoticed in this town.
Jay Franke explains that while admission is free, CDF is only made possible by contributions from private donors, corporations and foundations. Franke says that a large part of the preparation and planning involves looking for donations. With the economy what it has been, I would imagine it's a less than ideal time to look for monetary contributions. Luckily the arts in Chicago are tight-knit and supportive, and CDF's partnerships with the city's amazing venues make it possible for them to showcase local and visiting talent without the typical costs of using the spaces.
The other part of the planning process involves company and piece selection. As you might expect, CDF begins planning for the following year's festival not long after the current one finishes. According to Franke, specific pieces for various nights start to come together in late fall, and nearly a year of prep work brings everything together for the August festival.
When you go to CDF this week--if you go, and you should--take a minute before the show starts to think about the puzzle pieces that go into what you're about to watch. From company selection to the annual gala, and all the minute occurrences in between, think of the people, the money, the time, the choreographer's creative genius, the dancer's blistered feet, and the volunteer ushers who made the whole thing possible. I'm not sure if Chicago is the dance capital of the world, but for this one week, it will sure feel like it.
For more information about Chicago Dancing Festival, visit www.chicagodancingfestival.com