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North Texas performers to come together for benefit concert supporting AIDS organizations

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Kent Barker
Megan Storey, Hana Delong and Sean J. Smith (bottom row), Sofia Downing Ortega, Seth York and McKinley Willis (middle row) and Terrell Rogers, Jr. (top) are photographed for 'A Gathering 2022,' which will bring together diverse artists for a show at the Winspear Opera House in Dallas Nov. 14, 2022 in commemoration of the HIV/AIDS crisis.

‘A Gathering 2022’ will assemble the best of the North Texas performing arts community on one stage for one night.

Explore more stories from Arts Access.

Charles Santos, director of Dallas dance presenter TITAS, recently held a dinner at his home for fellow arts presenters and performers to plan the third edition of "A Gathering," a gala fundraiser for AIDS organizations.

They decided it should emphasize the chosen families of AIDS victims, Santos said, including the caregivers represented by the event’s beneficiaries, instead of the history and toll of the disease. After all, thanks to treatment options, those with HIV are enjoying longer and better lives.

To be held Nov. 14 at Winspear Opera House, "A Gathering 2022" is billed as “Celebrating Community.” AIDS is not mentioned on the poster nor is the once ubiquitous AIDS ribbon on display.

The show, featuring top North Texas singing, dancing and acting talent, won’t include a video tribute to people who died of the disease. “We wanted this to be a lighter show,” Santos said in an interview over Zoom.

He admits he was first taken aback by the idea, generated by younger attendees at that recent dinner, who’ve never known a world without AIDS. “It’s a more pragmatic approach,” he said. “I had to recognize that it’s a valid point of view.”

So why reprise the event — previously held in 2011 and 2013 — at all? “This is still here. People still die of AIDS,” Santos acknowledged.

Another reason is that last year marked the 40th anniversary of the start of the AIDS pandemic, Santos said.

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The Dallas Morning News staff
The Turtle Creek Chorale performed with dancers Albert Drake and Harry Feril during "Lux Aurumque" as part of "A Gathering 2013," an AIDS fundraiser organized by 10 local arts groups and featuring more than 200 singers, actors and dancers at the Winspear Opera House on Oct. 7, 2013.

"A Gathering 2022" is also a chance to bring together the best of the North Texas performing arts community on one stage for one night. As in past editions, the beneficiaries are AIN, AIDS Services of Dallas, Prism Healthcare and the Resource Center.

All of the participants, from the stagehands to the performers, are working for free, Santos said. The first two iterations raised a total of $80,000.

Many performers and performing arts groups from the earlier versions are back, including vocalists Denise Lee, Damon K. Clark and Rachel Dupard, who in 2011 was a senior at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. Also returning are Bruce Wood Dance, Texas Ballet Theater and Dallas Black Dance Theatre.

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TayStan Photography
Courtesy Circle Theatre
Denise Lee performing in "Denise Lee: Pressure Makes Diamonds" at Circle Theatre in Fort Worth in 2022.

Jazz pianist José Antonio Bowen, formerly dean of Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University, is again music director and leader of the backing band.

New to "A Gathering" are younger groups like the Verdigris Ensemble choir, B. Moore Dance and the DASH Ensemble dance troupe. Drag performers from the Rose Room are also on the bill.

Jonathan Norton, artist-in-residence at the Dallas Theater Center, has written a new three-scene play called Family that will be interspersed throughout the evening. Two 12-by-12-foot panels of AIDS quilt are being flown in for the event.

"A Gathering 2022" is built around special one-time collaborations. For instance, Verdigris will sing Sylvan Kamens and Rabbi Jack Riemer’s Jewish prayer “We Remember Them,” to accompany student dancers from Booker T. Washington and members of Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s junior company, in new choreography by DASH Ensemble founder Gregory Dolbashian.

The evening opens with Dupard and vocalist Cherish Robinson singing an a cappella call-and-response version of Whitney Houston’s “Love Will Save the Day” as they walk up the aisles of the Winspear to the stage.

“This is such a good show,” Santos says. “It took tons of work to put together.”

Details: Nov. 14 at 7 p.m. at Winspear Opera House, 2403 Flora St. $35-$50.

Manuel Mendoza is a freelance writer and a former staff critic at The Dallas Morning News.