Joffrey dancers Derrick Agnoletti and Anastacia Holden.
This Thursday, November 1, Embarcteams up with The Joffrey Ballet for a night of dancing, food and fun for a great cause. Embarc Chicago takes students from the city’s most forgotten (and dangerous) communities and gives them firsthand, real-world experiences through workshops, seminars and field trips to downtown theater and restaurants. According to Embarc Executive Director, Imran Khan, most of these kids have never been outside a four block radius of where they live. “We’re creating networks with businesses to build a bridge into communities, so that everyone has access to opportunity,” says Khan.
Working with Joffrey came organically, with dancers Anastacia Holden (Business Coordinator) and Derrick Agnoletti (Board Member) already associated with the non-profit. Khan also gives credit to Joffrey artistic director Ashley Wheater. “Ashley believes in the power and purpose of art to change lives and make the world better,” he says. The dancers follow his lead and were eager to give up their time and talent again this year for the benefit. Seven works – including six world premieres – of in-house choreography from Joffrey dancers and staff will be performed on Thursday night. (*Links to the artist’s statements below.) A piece choreographed for last year’s event by dancer Michael Smith ended up being reworked and performed at Dance For Life this past August.
Good news (for them) is the event this year has exceeded expectations and is already SOLD OUT. Khan hopes to expand next year with a bigger venue and possibly inviting other companies to join in the performance.
For more information on their program or to donate, go to www.embarcchicago.org.
Erica Lynette Edwards in "Strange Fuit". Photo by Sasha Fornari.
On Thursday, November 3rd, a group of Joffrey dancers performed in the black box studio theater at the Joffrey Tower to benefit local non-profit EMBARC. A New Movement was an evening of in-house choreography, plus a duet from the Joffrey rep with a reception and silent auction following in an adjacent studio. The benefit performance was delayed temporarily due to bad weather and to let everyone in the theater (it was full), but once things got started, it went swimmingly. A portion of the front row was roped off for the guests of honor – three students from Harper High School that are part of the EMBARC program which empowers students from socially and economically isolated areas through mentoring and cultural interactions. After a few words from co-founders Imran Khan (Executive Director) and January Miller (Program Manager), the show began.
New works created by Joffrey dancers Derrick Agnoletti, Shane Urton, Aaron Rogers and Michael Smith were shown along with a premiere from Joffrey Ballet Master Nicolas Blanc. Agnoletti’s dramatic African-influenced Incantation started the show danced by students from the Strobel Step Up program. If these kids were nervous dancing on a bill with professionals, it didn’t show. Agnoletti’s other offering Strange Fruit: Solo of the Disinherited danced beautifully by Erica Lynette Edwards was one of the highlights of the night. The long skirt and lyrical moves were Ailey-esque and her emotional intensity added a personal touch to the piece. During a pause in the music, she let out an audible sigh/cry that had the audience rapt. Fabrice Calmels and Victoria Jaiani danced a duet from Edwaard Liang’s Age of Innocence, a gorgeous work that was well worth the price of the $100 ticket to see it up close and personal. What struck me most was that it was performed in this small studio theater as if it was on stage at the Auditorium Theatre. To them, there was no difference – they gave it their all. Another choreographic highlight was Michael Smith’s “_________” (and yes, I gave him crap about not having a title!). Set to music by Arvo Pärt, the work for six dancers was earthy and beautiful inspired by a quote from the book of Revelations. The dancers seemed most honest in pedestrian moves, particularly a recurring theme where they held a hand to the forehead of a fellow dancer following them on or off stage. The dancers took clothes on and off on stage with all but one ended up “naked”, which warranted a joke from one of the EMBARC students after the show. Shout outs to Elizabeth Hansen (strong and clean) and Aaron Rogers (I could watch him do anything – he’s like butter!).
Anastacia Holden & Derrick Agnoletti in "Purple People". Photo by Sasha Fornari.
After the performance, Miller told the audience how you can see Willis Tower from Harper High School, but most of the students had never been downtown, had never been out of their neighborhood and after starting with EMBARC programming their attendance and grades improved. The three students in attendance came up to speak. Terence, once overcoming his nerves, was eloquent telling how “you can learn things you’ve never done before” and declaring that most kids think Batman and Superman are super heroes, but his super heroes are Mrs. Miller and Mr. Khan.
Tonight at the Joffrey Tower, Joffrey Balletdancers will premiere in-house works benefitting a local charity. EMBARC, co-founded by Joffrey dancer Anastacia “Stacia” Holden and two teachers at Harper High School in Englewood Imran Khan and January Miller, works to empower underprivileged youth by expanding their education to outside of school activities and cultural experiences. Through mentoring programs, field trips to shows or participating at a local garden, EMBARC strives to empower with skills to improve the students’ future. A quote by Antoine de Saint Exupery on the charity’s homepage reflects the core of their mission: “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea”.
Joffrey dancer Derrick Agnoletti (Holden’s bff) is also on the board of directors and will participating in tonight’s event as a performer and choreographer. “I like the fact that EMBARC is providing a space for choreographers of a world-class company to deliver in-house work all for a good cause,” says Agnoletti. “I’m grateful for the Joffrey being so passionate about taking part in this.” Everyone has been hard at work, some since this summer, creating works and the environment for a special, intimate evening of dance. Agnoletti and Holden will dance a duet by Joffrey Ballet Master Nicolas Blanc and Agnoletti has created a solo for fellow dancer Erica Lynette Edwards set to Strange Fruit by Nina Simone. “Erica dances with her heart,” he says. “She exudes a quality that i feel is very rare in dancers today. She is able to touch an audience with her movement. She can pull people in and drive them to feel something.”
Go see the Joffrey dancers strut their creative stuff for a great cause. A reception will follow the performance. For more information, please visit: embarcchicago.org
Joffrey Ballet & EMBARC present A New Movement
Nov 3 at 630pm, $100, Joffrey Tower, 10 E. Randolph, 4th fl