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Dance Masters

Franke, left, and Lubovitch

Chicago Dancing Festival

On August 22, 2007, a storm crept toward the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park just as the curtain was about to go up on the first Chicago Dancing Festival. The event’s two founders—Jay Franke, an energetic young dancer, and Lar Lubovitch, one of America’s brightest choreographers—nervously watched the weather forecasts. Despite the threatening skies, about 8,500 people poured into the pavilion for the free event. “We were blown away,” says Franke, 34, a past performer with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. “We thought, This is why we did this. This is what Chicago dance deserves.”

Lubovitch, 65, who had personally secured the participation of the country’s top companies—among them the San Francisco Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Complexions, and Alvin Ailey—concurs. “Part of our motivation here was to find a new dance audience,” he says. “We polled the audience that first year, and 13 percent had never seen dance before.”

In 2008, Lubovitch and Franke built on the triumph of that first year, extending the festival over three nights and adding two more venues, the Harris Theater for Music and Dance and the Museum of Contemporary Art (since the first year, a cosponsor of the event, along with the City of Chicago). The expanded fest drew more than 12,000 people.

 Franke and Lubovitch are now focused on elevating Chicago’s status in the international dance community. “There’s been so much growth in dance here, but it’s all been within and for itself,” says Lubovitch, a Senn High grad who still maintains an apartment here. “This is an opportunity to point out Chicago as a major arts center and for dance to take its place alongside the other arts that Chicago is famous for—the symphony, the opera, the Art Institute.”

If anyone can lead this charge, it’s Lubovitch, who, over the past four decades, has created bold, lyrical dances that respond to the world right outside his studio. He was the first choreographer to directly address the AIDS crisis (Concerto Six Twenty-two), and his Othello is one of the few story-length contemporary ballets. He is currently touring the country in celebration of his 40th year in the business, and Franke is traveling with him as a performer. In their off hours, the duo plan for the third Chicago Dancing Festival, slated for the week of August 17, 2009. This year the festival will include another venue (the Auditorium Theatre), which means an added evening for new choreography and Chicago premieres.

That it’s going to be a tough fundraising year for all nonprofits doesn’t daunt the pair. “People need dance now more than ever,” says Franke. Scaling back, he says, isn’t even an option. “That doesn’t seem to be in the nature of either of us.”


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