Making dreams come true with dance

How about a one-night-only collaboration of local, independent artists at a unique event space all to benefit a beloved charity? Sounds good to us! Dancing to Dream is coming to fruition this weekend after many months of preparation, dedication and cooperation. “This project has been in the works for about a year,” says Jacqueline Stewart, founder and choreographer of Jaxon Movement Arts and creator of Dancing to Dream, a performance benefitting the Make-A-Wish ® Foundation. “Everything came together piece-by-piece. I wanted to make something bigger than just a dance production.”

A staple in the local contemporary dance scene, Stewart left to live in New York for over four years, going back and forth between Chicago and NYC to perform and present work in both cities. “It was an eye-opener,” she said over the phone in Chicago in late August. “You realize the differences and similarities and trends in the dance community. At that time, there weren’t as many opportunities in Chicago.”

Once back in Chicago full-time, Stewart continued performing with Chicago Repertory Ballet and the Lyric Opera, while presenting her own work for companies in other cities like Madison Ballet. But she wasn’t presenting here. “I was doing a lot more dancing than creating,” Stewart said. “I like that balance. Doing both has a better outcome for me personally. I had the chance to create a short work for Aerial Dance Chicago, which is something I’d never done before. It was a really fun show and I thought, ‘why aren’t we (as a community) doing more of this? Why aren’t we coming together to present work?’”

She sees these types of collaborations to be trending, but thinks Chicago is a bit behind in the evolution. In the past, there was more of an emphasis on company life and not much outreach to work with independent artists. “I have these amazing, talented friends that are creating work elsewhere, so why not get them all together?” Stewart liked the idea of building a community that brings people together, but also wanted to tie it to a charitable cause to offset some of the cost. And it needed to make sense.  A random encounter at a party where she met a former dancer who now works for the Make-A-Wish ® Foundation pieced it all together. “I instantly thought it was perfect,” she said. “It’s helping kids. It’s a universal cause that everyone can connect with and understand and have a passion to support.

She started meeting with her friends (all talented dancers and choreographers) one-on-one and was amazed with their enthusiasm even though she didn’t have any funding yet. She partnered with Ashley Rockwood (former Giordano Dance Chicago diva) who started the Free Movement Shop, a studio where anyone can come take a movement class judgement-free. Stewart began teaching a monthly Pilates class, invited friends to teach yoga, too, and started raising money for the show. 

Dancing to Dream will present all new works created for the event. Joining Stewart is an all-star line-up of local independent (and mostly female) choreographers: Shannon Alvis, Rebecca Lemme, Anna Long, Lizzie MacKenzie, Jessica Miller Tomlinson, as well as a piece from Chicago Repertory Ballet, led by her long-time friend and collaborator, Wade Schaaf. “I wanted to tie in the choreography with the organization, so I gathered a bunch of materials from Make-A-Wish and told the choreographers to feel free to use any of it or gather their own information and use it as a springboard for their work. All are tied to elements of the kids’ stories and Make-A-Wish. I’m so excited about the content that everyone is creating that I don’t want to give it away, but there is something for everybody.” 

Ticket sales will be split 50/50 with the charity to cover the production costs with the choreographers and dancers, who are all donating their time and talent. Think of it as a mini Dance for Life. And like DFL, Stewart is hoping to make this an annual performance. Any sales over the cost of the event, she will donate back with hopes of covering one child’s “wish.” 

Dancing to Dream, benefitting the Make-A-Wish ® Foundation, takes place at 6 p.m. on Sept. 15 at the Chop Shop, 2033 W. North Avenue. Tickets are $25-$100. For more information, call 773.537.4441. The performance is approximately 90 minutes with an intermission. In addition, there is a preview/showing and choreographer talk-back on Friday, September 13 at 3:30 p.m. at the BARS Studio, 5640 S. University Blvd. on the University of Chicago’s Hyde Park campus.