I Am Your Friend | Buzz Blog

I Am Your Friend

Several dance performers come together for a noble cause

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On Friday, June 19, over at The Rail, we'll see a formation of performances you don't really get to see too often. #IAmYourFriend is a benefit concert featuring dozens of performers across multiple disciplines, putting together a unique showcase to benefit Fahodie For Friends. The organization works to end human trafficking in Ghana, and will receive all the proceeds from the evening's performance. The show itself includes performers from Ballet West, Ririe-Woodbury, Odyssey Dance Theatre, Repertory Dance Theatre, Myriad Dance, Underground Crew, the University of Utah Ballet Department, kids from Millennium Dance Complex and the Salt Lake Arts Academy. Today we talk with one of the organizers, Allison DeBona, about the show itself and the organization it will benefit. (All pictures courtesy of DeBona.)

Allison DeBona
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FahodieForFriends.org

Gavin: Hey Allison! First thing, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Allison:
My name is Allison DeBona. I am a First-Soloist with Ballet West. I am co-producing the I Am Your Friend Benefit Dance Performance with Rex Tilton.

Gavin: How did you take an interest in dance, and what were some early influences on you?

Allison:
I started dance at the age of three in Pittsburgh, where I grew up. Here's a really cool fact—my idol growing up was Natalie Desch. She and I went to the same dance school, and I looked up to her my whole life as a kid! She is now living in SLC and is married to Daniel Charon, who is the Artistic Director of Ririe-Woodbury. It's a small world!

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Gavin: How was it for you to hone your craft before seeking higher education in ballet?

Allison:
I danced as a child and chose to go to college for Ballet. I graduated from Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. I started with Ballet West professionally in 2007. It's a career you dedicate most of your life to.

Gavin: You've had an interesting career prior to Utah, studying in Pennsylvania and Indiana. How was it for you learning and rising through the ranks?

Allison:
Well, not many dancers choose to go to college before auditioning for companies. So, to be honest, I never would have thought I would be a First Soloist in a company. I didn't start professionally until I was 24. I'm very grateful for how it all has worked out. At times, it's a struggle, but we all have our own stories, I guess.

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Gavin: What made you decide to audition for Ballet West, and how was it for you joining the company?

Allison:
I knew Ballet West liked tall dancers, so I auditioned. I'm 5'9".

Gavin: Aside from the soloist work, you've also been a part of main casts. How has your time been with the company since you joined?

Allison: 
I've been so fortunate with the roles I get to dance at Ballet West. It's wonderful to be able to have a fulfilling and artistic career. Like I said earlier, I never expected any of this, it's been an amazing ride!

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Gavin: To date, what's been your favorite performance with Ballet West and why?

Allison:
Definitely Nicolo Fonte's Rite of Spring that premiered last year. He pushes us physically and mentally, and I feel we dance our best with him. I had a role made on me and it was a very special experience. We are doing it again this coming season. I'm so excited!

Gavin: Getting to this specific show, tell us about Fahodie For Friends and how you found the program.

Allison:
Fahodie for Friends was founded by a young woman named Lillian Martino. The non-profit is dedicated to fighting human trafficking and currently they are focused on Ghana, Africa. They have plans to reach further than Ghana. Lillian and her family are dear friends of ours and generous supporters of Ballet West.

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Gavin: What specifically drew you to the work they're doing in Ghana compared to other causes like food relief or aiding in health?

Allison:
The passion Lillian shows for helping others is infectious. And we see the results of their hard work. They currently have a safe house in Ghana where they are housing, educating and giving medical care to victims of human trafficking. Our show is raising money for them to build a second safe house because they are finding they are able to save more people but don't have the room for them currently.

Gavin: Prior to this show, what work have you already done with them here in Utah to help out the organization?

Allison:
Lillian was adopted by the Martino family from Ghana when she was three years old. She is currently 19. Her family has been working to help the people of Ghana since then but have been using their personal finances. Fahodie for Friends was founded three years ago by Lillian, but only this past year become a 501c3. We wanted to help them gain awareness. We only know dance, and we felt that producing a show was the best way for us to help.

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Gavin: How did the idea come about to put together the I Am Your Friend benefit show?

Allison:
The show was all Rex's idea! He has always wanted to bring the dancers of SLC together and I always wanted to help with a nonprofit. It was meant to be. It just felt right.

Gavin: What was it like for you going around and getting dancers from all these local companies involved with this?

Allison:
It was surprisingly easy! Everyone involved was so eager to be involved after we shared our vision. The two aspects of the show are undeniable. Help make the world a better place and getting all the dancers in SLC on stage and in the same place for the very first time! They are such a giving and selfless group of dancers. We have 43 dancers total! The dancers from companies involved are Ballet West, Ririe-Woodbury, Odyssey Dance Theatre, Repertory Dance Theatre, Myriad Dance, Salt Contemporary Dance, United We Dance Underground Crew, Blow Up Kingz (Bboy Crew), Millennium Dance Complex SLC and the University of Utah Ballet and Modern Departments. We also have Emmy Award-winning and SLC native Bonnie Story choreographing a piece. Rex Tilton (Ballet West), Brad Beakes (Ririe-Woodbury), Tia Aiano and Oliva Fullmer (Underground Crew) and Ashlee Vilos (Myriad Dance) are also choreographing works.

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Gavin: How has it been putting the show together and working with the crew at The Rail to utilize their space?

Allison:
We've literally been working on this show for a year! Rex and I really had no idea what we were doing. All we knew is that we wanted to do it, and were willing to learn along the way. It's amazing how things come together when they are truly meant to be. That's how I've felt about the whole year. We've hit a few hiccups, but overall it was pretty smooth. It's because the passion from everyone involved is true and honest.

Gavin: You've said all proceeds from the show will go toward the effort, for those who may be curious, what exactly are the proceeds helping to buy?

Allison:
Fahodie for Friends recently bought a second property in Ghana for a safe house. All proceeds will go towards renovating the space and buying what is needed for people to live there and be taken care of.

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Gavin: What are your thoughts going into the show, and what do you hope the public will take away from it?

Allison:
We want the audience to leave feeling grateful. We truly are so blessed. It seems to me that even at our worst, it is better than what victims of human trafficking have. Everyone deserves to be free. The people Fahodie for Friends help don't have that. I still cannot believe that slavery still exists. We would love to raise money for Fahodie, but first and foremost this show is about educating and informing the public on the facts of human trafficking and modern day slavery. We also want to start a summer coalition for dancers. We hope this is the beginning of that vision. We want to give these amazing Artists a chance to share their talents and passion.

Gavin: What can we expect from both of you over the rest of 2015?

Allison:
Rex and I will both have a busy schedule with Ballet West this coming season, but as soon as we are finished with I Am Your Friend, we are going to seriously start working on our summer dance coalition. All of our dancers are donating their talents this year, but in the future we would love to pay them. That's our next goal!

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