Auditorium gala designed to reawaken its dance history

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Elena d’Amario will perform David Parson’s “Caught” as part of the Auditorium Theatre’s gala, “A Golden Celebration of Dance.” | Supplied Photo

Since assuming the role of chief executive officer of the Auditorium Theatre last October, Tania Castroverde Moskalenko has been delving into the history of the building that was designed by Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan, opened in 1889, and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1975. And along with becoming familiar with the theater’s periodically rocky financial situation, she discovered the astonishing list of luminaries who have stood on its stage.

“Booker T. Washington spoke at the Auditorium, and of course more recently we had Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” said Moskalenko. “John Phillip Sousa and Sarah Bernhardt were here. So were Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Early on it was home to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chicago Grand Opera Company. And Frank Sinatra, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Aretha Franklin, Elton John, Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles all performed here.”

‘A GOLDEN CELEBRATION OF DANCE’ When: Nov. 12 at 7:30 p.m. Where: Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Tickets: $41 – $135 Info: Run time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, with one intermission

Yet from early on it was dance that had an especially impressive presence at the Auditorium. Anna Pavlova, Isadora Duncan, Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev all performed on its stage, and through the years there have been visits by the Ziegfeld Follies, Ballets Russes, Bolshoi Ballet, Maryinsky [Kirov] Ballet, Royal Ballet, Martha Graham Dance Company, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and the Joffrey Ballet, which first performed at the Auditorium in 1968, and since 1998 has been its resident company (although it will shift to the Lyric Opera House in 2020).

So this year, when it came time to think about how to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the theater’s grand re-opening on October 31, 1967 (after being shuttered for 26 years) — Moskalenko knew that dance should hold pride of place. And so it will when, on Nov. 12, the Auditorium presents “A Golden Celebration of Dance” — a one-night-only mixed repertory extravaganza showcasing artists from such internationally acclaimed companies as Alvin Ailey, American Ballet Theatre, the Dutch National Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, the Joffrey Ballet, MOMIX, New York City Ballet, Parsons Dance, the Suzanne Farrell Ballet, the Vienna State Ballet and the Washington Ballet. The evening also will feature special performances by finalists from the Youth America Grand Prix, the competition that homes in on some of the next generation’s most promising dancers.

Tania Castroverde Moskalenko, chief executive officer of the Auditorium Theatre. | Santiago Covarrubias/Sun-Times

Tania Castroverde Moskalenko, chief executive officer of the Auditorium Theatre. | Santiago Covarrubias/Sun-Times

The Auditorium went bankrupt in 1941. It was taken over by the City of Chicago a year later, and throughout World War II was used as a servicemen’s center (complete with a bowling alley). In 1946, Roosevelt University saved it from demolition, but the theater remained dark for two decades due to lack of funds. It wasn’t until 1963, when Mrs. Beatrice Spachner and other civic leaders created the Auditorium Theatre Council, and began a campaign to restore and reopen the theater, that its fortunes began to change. And it wasn’t until 1967 that it “re-awakened” with a visit by the New York City Ballet, which performed George Balanchine’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” with a cast led by the legendary dancers Edward Villella and Suzanne Farrell (both of whom are returning as honorary co-chairs for the upcoming gala).

“In curating this anniversary program I wanted a compelling mix that could tell our story — honoring our history, but also looking forward to continuing our dance legacy,” said Moskalenko, who confessed that one of the things keeping her awake nights is “restoring the Auditorium — not just cosmetically, but in a way that will make it competitive and attractive to 21st century artists.” Such “updating” should also help her fill the 12-week gap that will be left by the Joffrey’s future departure, whether with Broadway productions, or technologically demanding dance and music events.

The Auditorium Theatre in October, 1967, when, after being shuttered for 26 years, it re-opened with a visit by the New York City Ballet. | Richard Nickel

The Auditorium Theatre in October, 1967, when, after being shuttered for 26 years, it re-opened with a visit by the New York City Ballet. | Richard Nickel

Moskalenko chose to end the gala program’s first act with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago performing “Solo Echo,” a brilliant work by Canadian choreographer Crystal Pite “that is all about a departure, so it suggests the theater’s 26-year-long closing. The second act finale will feature one of ballet’s most flamboyant showpieces — the pas de deux from Petipa’s ‘Don Quixote’ — danced by American Ballet Theatre stars Daniil Simkin and Maria Kochetkova.”

Also on the program will be Alvin Ailey’s Solomon Dumas in Robert Battle’s “Takademe”; the Joffrey Ballet’s Victoria Jaiani and Temur Suluashvili in a pas de deux from Yuri Possokhov’s “Bells”; New York City Ballet ‘s Daniel Ulbricht and Megan Fairchild in a pas de deux from Balanchine’s “Tarantella”; Dutch National Ballet dancers in a pas de deux from Ted Brandsen’s “Mata Hari”; Suzanne Farrell Ballet dancers in a pas de deux from Balanchine’s “Meditation”; Brooklyn Mack (the Washington Ballet) and Koto Ishihara (San Francisco Ballet) in a pas de deux from “Diana and Acteon”; members of MOMIX performing Moses Pendleton’s “Millennium Skiva”; Elena d’Amario of Parsons Dance in David Parsons’ “Caught,” and Liudmila Konovalova (of Vienna State Ballet) in “The Swan,” in the style of Anna Pavlova.

NOTE: The Gala dinner will begin at 4 p.m. at the Standard Club, 320 S. Plymouth Court. For tickets email

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