Small Dance Showcase

Chicago’s small dance companies are finally getting a showcase for their talent: an annual fall festival of dance at the Athenaeum Theatre. Under the supervision of former Civic Opera House and Civic Theatre manager Fred Solari, the festival, scheduled to run October 26 through December 3, will spotlight at least 18 local dance groups as well as many of the city’s independent choreographers, who will have a program devoted exclusively to their work. Though no contracts have been signed as yet, likely participants include the River North Dance Company, the Trinity Irish Dance Company, Gus Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago, and Jan Erkert & Dancers. Among the choreographers Solari hopes to nab is Randy Duncan, the former artistic director of Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Theatre who left the company two years ago to establish himself as an independent choreographer.

Solari, who helped build the annual Spring Festival of Dance into a major dance event, views his new festival as a giant marketing campaign for dance in Chicago: “We want to raise the visibility of dance and try things that were really not feasible downtown at the spring festival venues.” He expects to bring in companies that have rarely played a 925-seat proscenium theater like the Athenaeum, and since overhead at the nonunion Athenaeum is significantly lower than at unionized downtown venues such as the Civic Opera House and the Shubert, where many of the spring festival events were held in past years, he estimates that the festival will only need to fill about 250 seats per performance to break even. Festival codirector John Schmitz has secured $75,000 in grants from Philip Morris and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to help underwrite the festival’s approximately $160,000 budget. Solari hopes to keep most tickets in the neighborhood of $15, with subscription prices dropping as low as $10 a performance.

He also plans to present multiple companies at most performances, exposing fans of one group to other, possibly less familiar companies. In his preliminary discussions with organizations that might participate, Solari says he’s stressed the need to present works that have the best chance of appealing to a broad audience, including those who may not consider themselves dance fans. “We want the companies to give the audiences what we know will work,” he says, adding that the festival’s campaign will be aimed at bringing in audiences that may not have previously attended a dance performance.

Cityfront Theater: Let’s Make a Deal

According to theater general manager Joyce Moffatt, the 12 arts organizations expected to be the principal tenants of the proposed Chicago Music & Dance Theater at Cityfront Center seem to be one step closer to signing letters of commitment to the 1,500-seat facility. In the first round of talks the groups–including the Old Town School of Folk Music, Performing Arts Chicago, the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum, Music of the Baroque, and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago–had balked at some of the theater’s demands, particularly a proposed $20,000 payment of what Moffatt terms “earnest money.”

Moffatt wouldn’t discuss specific changes that have been made in the contract, but she expects each organization to sign a letter of intent by mid-August. A source said the $20,000 fee has been lowered for those groups that do not expect to use the facility often. Some organizations, such as the Old Town School and the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum, said they don’t expect to use it for more than a handful of performances a year, while others, such as Hubbard Street and Performing Arts Chicago, are expected to use it more frequently.

Meanwhile, the Music & Dance Theater board of directors still is trying to raise the $28 million needed to build the theater, as well as an additional $5 million to endow the facility. According to Moffatt, the board has brought in approximately $19.7 million but would like to have $25 million committed to the project before construction. A fund-raising consultant apparently has assured the board of directors that the remaining funds can be secured by November, when ground needs to be broken if the new theater is to open on schedule in the fall of 1997. If the remaining money cannot be raised through traditional philanthropic channels, the board is considering making up the difference with a bond issue.

Gallery Opening

Though some might argue that the last thing the city needs is another art gallery, Raymond Benkoczy, who two months ago abruptly departed his post as artistic director of Around the Coyote after the festival’s board of directors refused to go along with several artists he’d nominated for a festival advisory board, has been busy setting up a gallery called Wabi Sabi. Scheduled to open September 7 at 350 N. Ogden. Benkoczy’s gallery will undoubtedly feature a group of about a dozen artists he now represents through his Acorn Companies International, a fine-arts talent agency he incorporated last month.

The Song Is Over

Last week’s Culture Club reported on producer Karen Leahy’s belief that a reduced performance schedule and word of mouth would save her beleaguered Song of Singapore. It didn’t. The show closes Sunday.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo/Randy Tunnell.