On October 6, UW World Series donor Kenny Alhadeff led his wife, Marleen, to a dimly lit dance studio in Meany Hall for a surprise. It was the couple’s 30th wedding anniversary, and Kenny had the ultimate gift waiting in the wings.
“I was trying to think very hard on what I could give my wife,” Kenny says. “I felt the most meaningful gift would be to create a dance that spoke to her love of dance, and the fact that a dancer is forever.”
Met with a bouquet of roses upon arrival at Meany Hall, and whisked upstairs to the dance studio, Marleen discovered a stage with four chairs lit under spotlight. To her surprise, Kenny commissioned a dance through the UW World Series and UW Dance department to commemorate the occasion and honor Marleen’s lifelong passion for dance. Titled Always a Dancer, the 10-minute piece expresses the journey of a dancer’s life from start to finish, and how a life once started in dance never ends, even after the curtain closes.
“We were able to make a donation to a worthy institution that does fabulous work and supports wonderful young artists,” Kenny says. “At the same time, I was able to make a statement of love and care for my wife. It was the perfect gift — truly one that once opened never is closed.”
UW Dance Lecturer Rhonda Cinotto choreographed the work with four undergraduate dance students to music from Brian Eno, Josh Kramer, Dakota Suite, and Johann Pachelbel. Each detail curated with care, even the music held fond memories for the couple; Pachelbel’s Canon in D was played on their honeymoon 30 years ago.
“It was very elegant and fluid and rich, with a very quiet, subtle voice,” Marleen says. “It was a beautiful representation of the need to make a choice and embrace it in a positive way.”
This collaboration between UW World Series and UW Dance highlights UWWS’ new vision of further engaging students, faculty, and the campus community in the arts. Through Kenny’s generous support, he provided a creative outlet for a choreographer and an opportunity for expression to four budding dancers, all from the University of Washington. The gift also helped underwrite Paul Taylor Dance Company’s performances as part of the UWWS’ World Dance Series October 4-6 on the Meany stage.
“The goal of the piece, outside of a statement of love to my wife, is to encourage everyone who loves and who is involved in dance to know that the wonder, spirit, and magic inside them never dies,” Kenny says. “Their body is only a piece of the process. It comes from their spirit. Marleen has done that. She has taken that grace into the way she lives her life.”
The Alhadeffs support a number of arts organizations in the Pacific Northwest, but the UW World Series holds a special place in their hearts.
“It’s the explosive, creative courage of the Series that is its hallmark,” Kenny says. “It’s not afraid to push the envelope and present to us the entire palette of dance. The World Dance Series is not about playing it safe, it’s about playing broad and exciting. That’s what’s so special.”
Gifts commemorating special occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries, and other hallmarks can be a meaningful way to support the UW World Series through a beloved art form. Giving not only supports UW World Series performances and education programs, but can grant artists the freedom to tell a story through movement that may not otherwise have a voice.
“I’m so grateful for the gift of dance,” Marleen says. “There’s a silence in its power that can’t be put to words. It’s a vocabulary that’s very different from anything else.”
For the four dancers, lighting designer Peter Bracilano, and costume designer Christine Tschirgi, the commission sparked a new opportunity to actively participate in the creation of a work. “I felt involved and invested in the movement,” UW Dance undergraduate Hallie Scott says. “And in the story.”
Collaboration is vital to the university and the vibrant community the UW World Series calls home. As part of her new tenure as artistic director, Michelle Witt looks forward to future collaborations between the UW World Series and UW Dance, and other on-campus departments, to further engage students with art.
“I can’t begin to say how it touched all of us to hear the story of Kenny and Marleen,” Michelle says. “It felt like a true celebration of life, of love, and the journey of spirit that we all take as audience members.”
In keeping with this collaborative spirit, Kenny and Marleen’s generosity brought artists together to celebrate not only an anniversary, but an institution they love.
“I feel like I received a gift,” Hallie says. “And that was huge.”
To make a gift that extends beyond the holiday season, contact Cristi Benefield at firstname.lastname@example.org or (206) 616-6296.