Toronto
2 min

On watch

Dancers poised & vigilant

FABRIC OF LIFE. Pascal Desrosiers talks of committment, generosity and a fighting spirit, moving dancers to tackle AIDS and a tough work environment. Credit: Paula Wilson

Like the Inside Out film fest and Pride Day, it seems there’s no stopping Dancers For Life from getting bigger and better. Now in its 12th year, the (almost) annual AIDS fundraiser has steered a careful course between charitable work, political activism and first-class entertainment. Even at a time when AIDS seems to have slipped from the (gay and mainstream) spotlight, Dancers For Life continues as a reminder that we still have a long way to go in the fight against the disease.



“It’s my biggest dream the day we don’t have to do Dancers For Life anymore,” says acclaimed dancer Michael Trent, this year’s co-chair (along with Judy Harquail). For four years Trent has been part of the mammoth, behind-the-scene organizational work. This year alone, Trent says, Dancers For Life hopes to raise close to $150,000 (net) for the AIDS Committee Of Toronto, bringing its 12-year total to more than $1-million.



Since 1995, Dancers For Life has commissioned an exclusive world premiere (previous choreographers have included James Kudelka, the late William Douglas and Julia Sasso). This year, in what’s been dubbed The National Commission, four choreographers from across the country have been selected by a special committee to create a three-minute piece each and to collaborate on a finale, under Trent’s supervision.



The choreographers are Vancouver’s Joe Laughlin, Winnipeg’s Ruth Cansfield, Montreal’s Jean Grand-Maitre and Toronto’s Peter Chin. If that doesn’t sound like a mission-impossible scenario to you yet, consider that the choreographers will meet in Toronto only four days before the event to begin rehearsals with eight dancers (including Pascal Desrosiers) who, in some cases, they have never met before.



“I think there’s a kind of analogy between creativity and collaboration that take place in a project like this,” says Trent. “And I feel it is still required of us in the face of HIV and AIDS.



“The idea of this commission – the immediacy and swiftness of it and the fact that it takes place in such a short period of time – is a symbol for us to keep vigilant, of what’s required to keep the work up. It’s the kind of underlying energy that needs to be sustained.”



While acknowledging that he is “nervous, in the best way,” Peter Chin, a Dora Award-winning choreographer and dancer, is ready to take on the challenge. “I’m lucky in that I work that way,” Chin says. “I work really quickly. The challenge is appealing to me.”



The event’s energy and passionate frenzy is best experienced backstage. “The most exciting part – and I wish the audience could see this – is the wings, backstage,” says Trent enthusiastically. “All the dancers are watching the performance from the wings and that energy is extremely potent and powerful.”



Trent promises that this year’s program will live up to the sub-theme of a “classy and elegant evening.” With Karen Kain as host, Margie Gillis, Peggy Baker, Rex Harrington and Evelyn Hart among the evening’s performers – and the Elgin theatre as a new venue – Trent is all set to deliver on his word. Among many highlights, he points to a rare Canadian appearance by Susan Jaffe and Robert Hill from the American Ballet Theatre.



It’s not a coincidence that Dancers For Life includes as many dance disciplines as can fit one program. “This is the only time that ballet, the modern dance world, the jazz world and all sorts of dance artists come together for one cause,” says Chin. “[They] all really contemplate serious issues and do it through creativity.”