It’s not easy to describe Links Hall’s annual benefit party, happening March 21 at DANK Haus in Lincoln Square. But here’s how Stefon, the tweaked-out club kid on Saturday Night Live, might do it: “Chicago’s hottest fund-raiser is THAW. This party has everything: puppetry, burlesque, a balloon dancer, some lady skating around with soap strapped to her feet, some other weird lady lighting candles, a live-action video game called The Battle of Booze Mountain and, like, futuristic-looking food from under-the-radar catering company Guerrilla Smiles.”
Stefon would be merely skimming the surface, though. THAW is a multifaceted “hot winter ballyhoo” that defies expectation. What attendees can count on from year to year are dynamic pop-up dance performances from emerging artists. This year features cabaret, burlesque, ballet, modern and improvisational movement. The event reflects Links Hall’s mission to support innovative expression and public engagement with the arts. The intimate Wrigleyville studio curates a wide range of performers—many of them new to Chicago—and has earned a reputation as one of the city’s most progressive cultural orgs.
“[THAW] started about six years ago as more of a ‘friend-raiser,’ ” says Debra Giunta, chair of the Links Hall Associate Board and co-chair, along with Kelsey Allison and Matthew Griffin, of THAW 2013. “The original idea wasn’t even to raise money but to allow [Links Hall] artists to meet with people who were supporting the organization.” It turned into a highly anticipated annual fund-raiser, last year drawing around 600 attendees and bringing in $27,000 for the nonprofit.
The Associate Board chose the Moving Architects as this year’s dance curators. “They’ve been around for a while and have a multidisciplinary focus,” Giunta says, “so we felt like they would be able to work with the widest range of artists.”
The Chicago-based modern-dance company, founded by Erin Carlisle Norton in 2007, selected 30 local and national choreographers from more than 80 proposals. “As curators, we were all really eager to promote emerging artists,” the Moving Architects’ Sarah Gonsiorowski says. “But we also wanted to build an interesting show order. Variety is important. People are going to see things that are new and unique and exciting, and we want to make sure that our audience is equally as engaged as the performers.”
Gonsiorowski says the performances she’s most looking forward to include the aforementioned “soap ice-skating” by Hope Esser, Hannah Ernest’s improvisational movement with balloons and Karen Faith’s installation of 100 candles that she’ll move throughout the space. For Giunta, a highlight will be the part-scripted, part-improv live video game by Planetary Defense Force, with battle scenes and audience participation. The Moving Architects’ debut of a two-part piece called Loneland should be a more sober but equally riveting part of the evening. The highly physical work explores how disenfranchised communities can be divided by political, social or tribal boundaries.
Performances happen in 45-minute intervals (from 6:30–10:30pm) throughout the fifth and sixth floors of DANK Haus. Last year, visibility was a bit of a problem, so for better sight lines, attendees can stand on platforms placed around the rooms. “Part of the benefit of being in this sort of informal space is being able to walk around and interact with the artists,” Giunta says. “It’s way more participatory than if you were at a dance show.”
THAW, minus Stefon, takes place March 21, 6:30–11:30pm at DANK Haus.Tickets $30–$40.