Dancers can be fiercely competitive. Heck, there’s a whole industry built around the spectacle of dancers trying to best each other before a daunting panel of judges (and the “viewing audience at home”).
On the other foot, dancers also can be incredibly supportive. Just look at “We Dance for Artist Relief Tree,” a virtual dance benefit concert planned for 8 p.m. Friday, June 12, to raise money for freelance performers out of work because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The effort is being driven by 10 Rutgers University Mason Gross School of the Arts alumni, spearheaded by Olivia Mode-Cater, Class of 2011 and 2012.
“Like so many, freelance artists have been hit hard by COVID-19,” said Mode-Cater, who is producing the fundraiser. “From local performances to Broadway stages, venues that draw crowds will be among the last bits of life to get back to normal, leaving a majority of these artists unemployed and without a plan on how to recover.”
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Artist Relief Tree was created specifically to help with the “how to recover” part. It was founded at the start of the pandemic to collect donations to support “artists of any discipline” with one-time “solidarity” relief payments. Its website’s latest tallies report it has raised $404,561 (its goal is $1 million) and has assisted 1,426 artists to date.
As for who’s eligible, Art Tree Relief’s approach is “very simply, if you ask for it, we’ll give it to you. The only limiting factor is the amount of money we’re able to raise. It’s possible we’ll run out of funds before we’re able to fulfill every request.”
That’s where Mode-Cater and her Rutgers colleagues come in.
Founder and CEO of Dance Ed Tips — an online company providing resources to help dance teachers teach — Mode-Cater teamed with fellow Dance Ed Tips COO Lauren Connolly (Mason Gross Class of 2010) and The Streamlined Studio founder and CEO Micaela Royer at the outset of the coronavirus crisis to produce virtual dance performances.
“The goal of these virtual shows was to raise money for Artist Relief Tree and give dancers a platform to share their work during the quarantine,” said Mode-Cater, who has BFA and Ed.M degrees from Mason Gross. They generated $3,000 in donations.
Last month, Art Relief Tree produced “We Sing,” an online benefit concert featuring 12 opera singers that drew more than $8,000 in pledges during the live stream.
“The next day they approached me and asked if my team would produce a virtual dance benefit concert on their behalf,” Mode-Cater noted. She put out the call to fellow alumni and, “their Rutgers roots and united passion for dance brought them all together with a resounding ‘yes.’”
The goal for the June 12 “We Dance for Artist Relief Tree” is to raise $10,000. The two-hour online concert can be viewed on various Facebook pages (Artist Relief Tree, The Streamlined Studio, Dance ED Tips). It will be hosted by Nick Raynor (Class of 2014), who has toured internationally and recently completed an Off-Broadway run of “Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish.” The show will have 15 guest artists with interviews and a mix of live and pre-produced from-home segments.
“We will have performances in a wide variety of dance styles including, modern, hip hop, ballroom, musical theater, jazz, tap, African dance, ballet, and aerial,” said Mode-Cater “We have performers from Los Angeles, Oakland, Houston, Chicago, New York, New Jersey, Florida, and more.”
Some of the highlights she noted will include:
- A performance by Chip Abbott, assistant choreographer, dance captain and swing to Emmy Award-winner Joshua Bergasse in the Broadway Revival of On The Town.
- Several interactive live dance lessons where viewers will get to learn some moves from Stephanie “Packrat” Whitfield, Star Dixon, and others.
- A moving tribute to the Class of 2020 performed by Naya Lovell and Matilda Mackey, two of the Juilliard School’s graduating seniors.
- An interview with Marc Brew, artistic director of AXIS Dance Company, the acclaimed ensemble of disabled and non-disabled performers.
- An “epic grand finale” featuring dancers from all walks of life moving and grooving in their homes during their quarantine.
The Rutgers Mason Gross contingent will be:
Olivia Mode-Cater, BFA Class of 2011, Ed.M. Class of 2012, founder and CEO of Dance ED Tips, director of dance education at Hofstra University, and dance teacher at Rutgers Preparatory School.
Lauren Connolly, BFA Class of 2010. After graduating Rutgers, Lauren continued her choreographic journey by forming her modern dance company, Connolly & Co. She now serves as COO of Dance ED Tips and works at Apollo Global Management as an HR professional and project manager of the Mindfulness Program.
Tyner Dumortier, BFA Class of 2011. After a number of years of national and international touring, Dumortier returned to NYC and is working at Goldman Sachs.
Lindsey Della Serra, BFA Class of 2014, Ed.M. Class of 2015. Della Serra is a dance educator at Franklin High School in Somerset, company manager for Moving Youth Dance Company in Cranford, project Manager for Dance ED Tips, and freelance Pilates trainer.
Nick Raynor, BM Class of 2014. Raynor has just finished a successful Off-Broadway run of “Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish,” which received a Drama Desk Award for Best Musical Revival.
Melissa Gaul, Ed.M. Class of 2018. Gaul is a dance educator at a middle school in Union City and works as a video editor for Dance ED Tips.
Helen Snelgrove, BFA Class of 2017. After graduating from Rutgers, Snelgrove continued a career in education, receiving her NJ K-12 Dance Education certification and her California teaching license. She currently is working with middle school students.
Robert Burke, BFA Class of 2013. Burke is a NJSCA 2020 Individual Artist Fellowship recipient for his choreography and dances for Megan Williams Dance Projects and 10 Hairy Legs.
Sharie Taluba, BFA Class of 2018. Taluba is working for an attorney doing investigator and paralegal work.
Stephanie Whitfield, BA Class of 2013. Whitfield is a choreographer and movement artist working with artist such as Madonna, Pharrell (N.E.R.D), Kanye and currently “Legendary” on HBO MAX.
“All of our paths have crossed at some point in college and/or professionally,” Mode-Cater said. “Many of us have collaborated together in and out of dance; however, this is the first time that this entire group of individuals is coming together on the same project.”
Mode-Cater said the artists performing during “We Dance for ART” are being compensated “through the generous support of the events’ sponsors, allowing 100% of the money raised to go directly to the ART fund.”
The experience, no doubt, will be rewarding in other ways as well.
“Producing this event has been a very collaborative effort that has allowed each person’s talents and strengths to shine,” she said. “As a result, we have created an incredible performance that celebrates the power of dance to create joy.”
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