… in twenty five years it has come to be known not only as a showcase for imaginative and talented young artists, but even more as an iconic collaboration of good will.
The things that are really valuable in dance are part of dance at every level — the preparation and the passion, the commitment and the creativity, and all of the many layers of accomplishment that make a dance concert happen. Since the first concert twenty-five years ago, each annual performance of Dance for LIfe’s Next Generation has brought to their audiences new accomplishments, as well as a panorama of creativity — all the while deepening the foundation of commitment that is the essence of the series.
The Next Generation program was launched in 1994 by Corey Nagel, Diane Rawlinson and Terry Wethington, all of whom had been involved in the annual Dance for Life benefit concert in its early years. Just a few years later, Linda McDonald of Arlington Dance Ensemble, also inspired by Dance for Life, debuted her concert, Dance for Dreams, and in 2001, Rawlinson and McDonald decided to combine the concerts into one annual event.
Each year, a dozen or more companies of young dancers gather to present the annual benefit, and in twenty five years it has come to be known not only as a showcase for imaginative and talented young artists, but even more as an iconic collaboration of good will. We asked Diane Rawlinson to tell us more about this widely anticipated event, which takes place this year on March 3rd at 5pm at Wheeling High School‘s Sang Theatre. Here’s what she told us:
… it is so much fun to work with the amazing artistic directors and their dancers once a year like this in a collective experience.
Johnny Nevin: When Dance for Life’s Next Generation goes on stage at Wheeling High School’s Sang Theatre on March 3rd, you’ll be celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of this important annual concert. As you look back on your work with Children’s Place Association, with The Dancers Fund and Dance for Life, and with all of the companies and schools who perform at Next Generation, what do you think are the reasons why you’ve been able to continue to make this event succeed at such a high level?
Diane Rawlinson: First and foremost, because my co-director (Linda McDonald of McDonald’s Dance Academy) and I have a great working relationship with this event. We work great as a team and share the responsibilities and visions in co-hosting and co-producing the event. I honestly would not want to do it without her, and we’ve been doing it as a team since 2001. It’s also because of the support of Wheeling High School, which has made the event a priority on our theatre calendar and considers it one of the Orchesis events, so we have access to the theatre every year to produce it.
Dance for Life’s Next Generation has become such a tradition that there is a real sense of pride for the dancers to be part of it. Many of the companies have been part of this event for a long time, and every year we try to rotate in some new groups. On a personal level, it is so much fun to work with the amazing artistic directors and their dancers once a year like this in a collective experience. We actually like working together and value the opportunity for all of us to bring our dancers together in a collective vision instead of a competitive nature.
Linda and I have also had our dancers (and Lizzie that last 10 years or so) helping out with the actual Dance for Life concert in Chicago every year, both before the concert than at the actual Dance for Life Concert, so the youth dancers have a true connection to the larger professional dance community in a very different capacity. Three Orchesis alumni have actually been production assistants to Dance for Life as adults and a fourth one is on the board this year, which is pretty cool.
Almost every other week some type of outreach, community service, giving back type of thing happens in our building.
Johnny: Dance for Life’s Next Generation must be something like a ten on a one-to-ten scale of complex production challenges: thirteen different companies featuring something like a hundred and fifty dancers, and one shot to do it all. Yet the entire production is run by the students from the Wheeling High School Orchesis program that you direct. In terms of training, in terms of inspiration, in terms of motivation, what has been the foundation of making such an impressive accomplishment happen every year?
Diane: The show is a production challenge for sure, especially when it is produced one week after our main Orchesis concert — we’re literally producing two events almost simultaneously. But because all of the elements for a dance production are in place on our stage already, it is actually easier to do it this way than to try to strike and then set up the theatre a second time later in the year.
As for the scale of the performance, and especially the number of performers, putting together a program order when we haven’t seen the dances is one of the bigger challenges, but we can still figure it out based on style, number of dancers, costumes, and music.
The production is run by the dancers themselves. We do utilize our professional lighting designer to program the lights since it has to be done so quickly, but other than that, students do it all and run the board once the lights are set. Each company has twenty minutes on the actual day of the event to set their lights and run the piece. It’s good for the dancers in the performing companies too — to see their peers in this capacity as both dancers and helping produce the event.
Seeing the teens take control, take charge, stand in the lighting booth with artistic directors and call their cues, is amazing.
The Wheeling Orchesis members learn how to produce their own concerts — run the lights, call the cues, stage manage, change gels, move sets, organize backstage, create the sets, produce commercials….so they learn a range of aspects of HOW to get a concert onto the stage beyond dance, choreography, and costume selection. They also conduct a children’s workshop in December and have an opportunity to reach out to the community and reach beyond themselves in sharing their art form.
In terms of inspiration, it really has become a tradition and a true sense of pride. Seeing all the other dancers, taking class together before the benefit, welcoming them into our building — having an authentic opportunity to use their art in service of others. In terms of motivation, I’ve been at Wheeling 28 years now and the students truly are a giving group. Almost every other week some type of outreach, community service, giving back type of thing happens in our building. Our students come from a large range of cultural and economic backgrounds but the dancers really bond together as an ensemble as they learn to make things happen for others.
It’s a full circle. We help with Dance for Life in the summer by both hanging posters in the city and helping with the actual event at the Auditorium Theatre, then we turn around and host/produce a youth version of the event. Teens really are capable and compassionate individuals. They are not the stereotypes often thrown on them. Seeing the teens take control, take charge, stand in the lighting booth with artistic directors and call their cues, is amazing. Then seeing the pride when the participating groups announce how they also raised funds, and seeing ALL the dancers take a final bow together at the end of the night is a picture of the power of the Next Generation.
… seeing ALL the dancers take a final bow together at the end of the night is a picture of the power of the Next Generation.
Dance for Life’s Next Generation takes place at 5pm on March 3, 2019 at Wheeling High School’s Sang Theatre (900 S. Elmhurst Road, Wheeling, IL). Tickets are available online from Brown Paper Tickets. The 25th Anniversary performance will feature:
Arlington Dance Ensemble (Arlington Hts.) • Ayodele Teen Collective (Chicago)
Extensions Dance Company (Chicago) • Hubbard Street Youth Ensemble (Chicago)
Inaside Youth Dance Company (Chicago) • Kenwood Dance Project (Hyde Park)
Lane Tech Polynesian Dance Troupe (Chgo)• Loyola High School (Wilmette)
Mohler Dance Academy (Bloomingdale) • Movement and Sound Dance Company (Buffalo Grove)
Stevenson Concert Dance (Lincolnshire) • Visceral Studio Company (Chicago)
Wheeling High School Orchesis (Wheeling)