Complacency in AIDS Fundraising?

Dancers Find their Voice at DRA Broadway Cares Event

The "Dance from the Heart" event in New York this week, a program of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, was a triumph of individual and troupe artistry. It was also a call to arms among the dramatic arts community to continue to sound the clarion call for AIDS research funding.

Chuck Askegrad is a ballet star. He was with American Ballet Theater for 10 years and with New York City Ballet for 14 years, moving on to start his own company 18 months ago. Now he runs Ballet Next. At 6' 4" tall, Askegrad of Minneapolis has been dancing his entire life, lifting ballerinas like his girlfriend Georgina Pazcoguin (Gina) to amazing heights. He performed with her and 13-year veteran of the NYC Ballet Danseur Amar Ramasar at the Cedar Lake arts center in Chelsea. They danced to a superb Jerome Robbins-choreographed, Irving Berlin-scored, Bob Fosse-staged song Mr. Monotony. Happily, in the ballet pas de trois, Askegrad wins back his real-life paramour!

"I lost many friends in the dance world," said Askegrad. "It is such a terrible disease and people somehow believe it has gotten cured!"

"Because most Americans believe that AIDS has become a 'maintenance lifestyle' (with drugs to keep HIV at-bay), the pressure has somehow been taken-off," he said after his performance. Young people are now contracting HIV at alarming rates but it's off the radar, he believes, as do his fellow NYC Ballet dancers. "HIV is starting to become another epidemic with the young."

Many HuffPost readers are aware of "Broadway Cares" but fewer know the equity foundation absorbed the Dancers Responding to AIDS (DRA) years ago. At Broadway Shows, stage actors come to the theater to ask for funds and personally collect. Dancers are never seen nor heard unless they have roles in musicals.

"It is good for us to have a voice," said Askegrad. "Dancers don't speak!" With DRA performances, he believes that the dance community can "break down the barriers" on the importance of keeping AIDS research top-of-mind.

Christopher Davis, co-producer of the show along with Sarah Cardillo, who also wears the principle development hat, and Denise Roberts Hurlin, an original DRA founder, brought together amazing dancers including some kids from Boston who eschewed societal labels. The Project Moves Dance Company did "HUMAN" with scores of young ingénues and young men tearing labels off, including their costumes leotards, to reveal body paint and the single word. The project motto is: "Accept me for who I am."

During the dance, the voiceover "mash-up" of Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy and Nelson Mandela intones inspiration. One narrator then states: "Every child will find his own way of living his own life story."

Carolyn Breton, a Boston dancer who is just joining a new Alvin Ailey production, is a ballet teacher for one of the young Project Moves budding starlets. She's proud of her eighth grader; but also that there is new art (like HUMAN) emerging in the Dance community. "Giving a young person a chance to contribute to the AIDS cause at such a young age is the real message here."

Gerald M. Appelstein is one of the major choreographic sponsors along with The Charles Evans Foundation and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.

"Denise Roberts has made a real difference (with DRA) and has the total respect of Broadway," said Appelstein. "I believe she has tried to preserve Jerome Robbins. In many ways, that makes Denise Roberts (Hurlin) an historian who is trying to preserve the arts." Appelstein said he met Roberts Hurlin when she danced for Paul Taylor, an ensemble also represented at DRA.

He funded the American Dance Machine's Tony-award winning Mr. Monotony program which Chuck Askegrad, Gina Pazcoguin and Amar Ramasar interpreted. Appelstein is VP at Tauber Oil Company and has his degree in chemical engineering at MIT, a school he supports with candidate interviews. He also has his own ballet company called Complexions.

DRA and Broadway Cares provide grants to over 500 groups in the U.S. fighting for a cure and treatment protocols for AIDS.

Mike Smith blogs for The Huffington Post and recently reviewed Visiting Hours, by Jennifer Anne Moses. It is a novel in short stories about AIDS hospice in Baton Rouge.