Free Chicago Dancing Festival to end after 10 years

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Rennie Harris Pure Movement in “Students of the Asphalt Jungle” in 2014. | Photo courtesy of the Chicago Dancing Festival

During the past 10 summers, the Chicago Dancing Festival has drawn tens of thousands of dance lovers from throughout the area to free concerts of ballet, contemporary and ethnic dance at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, as well as the stages of the Auditorium Theatre, the Harris Theater for Music and Dance and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.

Now the festival, founded by Chicago-bred choreographer Lar Lubovitch, former dancer Jay Franke and David Herro, is coming to an end.

“At the end of this summer’s festival Lar and I looked at each other and said, ‘Okay, we’ve crossed over into no man’s land. It was not a financial decision at all; our funders were with us. But we felt we’d accomplished what we set out to do and we wanted to finish on a high note,” Franke said.

Jay Franke, one of the founders of the Chicago Dancing Festival | Quinn Wharton/Provided photo

Jay Franke, one of the founders of the Chicago Dancing Festival | Quinn Wharton/Provided photo

The festival was designed to bring more attention and new audiences to such Chicago-based companies as the Joffrey Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Ensemble Espanol and the Chicago Human Rhythm Project, to expose Chicago audiences to many companies and choreographers from beyond its borders, including the Martha Graham Dance Company, Rennie Harris and the Philadelphia Ballet, and to help build this city’s profile as a vibrant center of dance.

Over the years, the festival expanded from its first summer, when it presented a single concert in Millennium Park, to this past summer, when it ran for a week in various indoor and outdoor venues. The indoor concerts required advance reservations but were free. The Millennium Park concert that evolved into the festival’s grand finale event, more often than not showcased an exciting mix of dance styles, and welcomed all spectators with no prior planning required. And with only rare exceptions resulting from threatening weather, the place was packed.

“We averaged about 10,000 people in the park each summer, Franke said.

Lar Lubovitch, a founder of the Chicago Dancing Festival. (Photo: Nan Melville)

Lar Lubovitch, a founder of the Chicago Dancing Festival. (Photo: Nan Melville)

While participants from abroad were few and far between, the festival became a much-anticipated rite of summer that made dance far more accessible to those who often find ticket prices prohibitive.

With a new chief executive officer just taking the helm at the Auditorium Theatre, and a shift in leadership set for the end of the year at the Harris Theater, it might be up to those two organizations to create a new festival. As Franke noted, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a known dance fan, was disappointed to receive the news.

Victoria Jaiani and Temur Suluashvili performed a duet from Christopher Wheeldon’s “After the Rain” at the finale of the 10th annual Chicago Dancing Festival in Millennium Park. (Photo: Cheryl Mann)

Victoria Jaiani and Temur Suluashvili performed a duet from Christopher Wheeldon’s “After the Rain” at the finale of the 10th annual Chicago Dancing Festival in Millennium Park. (Photo: Cheryl Mann)

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