When dance lovers and the influential set join together, great things happen. It’s called the Fire Island Dance Festival.
It’s one of the hottest tickets of the summer, and it takes place in the Pines, in the backyard of a private waterfront home. Each year, that home is transformed to accommodate a capacity crowd. There’s stadium seating with a stage overlooking the Great South Bay. Hospitality tents and bars dot the property and the home’s rooftop. It’s an intimate setting that showcases arts, culture and summer at their finest hour.
For the first time, Cuba was in the house
And yet, the 2016 edition of the 22-year-old Fire Island Dance Festival was notable for a variety of other reasons.
It shattered previous fundraising efforts, with this year’s benefit bringing in more than $560,000 to support Dancers Responding to AIDS, a program of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, which helps dancers across the country suffering from AIDS and other illnesses get back on their feet.
It featured dancers from around the globe, but the country most notably present on the stage was Cuba. It marked the first time the Ballet Contemporáneo de Camagüey performed in the United States.
Ballet legend Wendy Whelan and Brian Brooks took to the stage like dance royalty and received a Standing O, but it was Madboots Dance that brought the audience to tears with its emotional performance with choreography created as a response to the tragedy in Orlando.
Broadway fave and star of Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Tituss Burgess hosted with grace and humor, admirably carrying the baton handed to him from the likes of prior celebrity hosts, including B.D. Wong, Allan Cumming, Whoopi Goldberg and Mo Rocca.
With all shows sold out, the crowd was filled with Broadway choreographers, dancers, dance enthusiasts and patrons of the arts. Yet wealth and star status paled against the simple human joy that broke out halfway through the performance. That’s when the July sun and temperature gets a little too hot for the crowd clad in white, and popsicles are handed out.