By Carrie Ann Salvi
YOU COULD FEEL the love in the humid July air, on stage as well as behind the scenes, at the 22nd annual Fire Island Dance Festival.
Creative expressions from the heart even included a marriage proposal by Andrea Miller, artistic director and choreographer of Gallim Dance, to her fiancé Juan Pengifo. After jump- ing on stage to profess her deep love and admiration, Miller’s request was accepted by Pengifo.
“I was completely surprised,” said Pengifo as he cried with joy.
A dance fest love commitment was appropriate as the couple found each other right there in the Fire Island Pines in 2011, when she resided just two houses down from the magnificent water- front stage. Miller credited the FIDF for the connection to her partner, as well as to their recently deceased friends, Harvey Alter and Mike Young, who hosted her as a festival choreographer. She paid tribute to the couple by choreographing a dance where Gwyn Mackenzie represented her mourning in a dramatic, silk hooded cape, while Austin Tyson and Paul Vickers artfully expressed Alter and Young’s undying love.
“Relationships are the corner- stone of all that we do, whether it’s the relationships between the dancers and the audience, between dancers and choreographers, or between our per- formers and their hosts,” said Denise Roberts Hurlin, founding director of Dancers Responding to AIDS, a program of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.
The beauty of human trust and support was demonstrated by all 32 professional dancers including ballet legend Wendy Whelan and choreographer Brian Brooks, who relied on each other to balance and move gracefully about the stage, falling and entangled in each other until a peaceful surrender.
As dancers sailed across the stage at water’s edge, boats sailed along in the backdrop, while a large pink flag of AIDS awareness waved above. Three days of sold-out crowds braved the heat to experience the diverse mix of Broadway, ballet, contemporary and modern dance as well as the world premieres of five works.
This year’s celebration was hosted by Tituss Burgess, of Broadway fame, who recently received his second Emmy Award nomination for his role in “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.”
A new fundraising record was set with $560,133 in receipts for the festival this year, according to a press release, which stated, “In its 22 editions, Fire Island Dance Festival has raised more than $4.8 million to help ensure that those in need living with HIV/AIDS and other debilitating illnesses in New York and across the country have access to lifesaving medications, counseling, healthy meals and emergency financial assistance.” The fund relies on the performing arts community to support social services via more than 450 AIDS and family service organizations nationwide.
Recipients of that support recently included victims of the LGBT club shooting in Orlando, Florida, and a gripping performance inspired by that tragedy left the audience in hopeful tears as Jonathan Campbell and Austin Diaz’s untied bonded wrists, kissed passionately and celebrated same- sex love and freedom to the tune of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “There’s a Place for Us”amidst the powerful voices of Judy Garland and Shirley Bassey.
Love also exuded through the twirls and lifts of a hot male duo from Cuba’s Ballet Contemporáneo de Camagüey. Their glistening muscular physiques seen for the first time in the United States, Armando Gomez Brydson and Jesus Arias Pagues shared the perfect blend of sexuality and sensitivity. History was made with the piece too as choreographer Pedro Ruiz, was the first Cuban-American given an official position with a Cuban dance company.
Although serious talent and emotions abounded on and off stage, the lighter side was not forgotten and neither were the scorching temperatures. Iced towels and popsicles were served to the audience, who were also refreshed with Burgess’s comical wisecracks like his simplistic sum-up that “skinny people are so talented.”
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