Jeremy Plummer, 35, is flying high. He is a successful dancer, teacher, choreographer and aerialist who happens to be openly gay. He choreographs for the Royal Caribbean cruise line, including their first all-aerial show. Last month he received the Chicago National Association of Dance Masters 2013 Artistic Achievement Award. And he survived a tragic physical accident that doctors said should have killed him. "It's going well," he said of his life. "I can't complain."
This month, Plummer participates in Dance for Life (DFL), an annual multi-company dance performance that benefits the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, the Dancers' Fund and Chicago House. This year's show boasts performances from DanceWorks Chicago, Giordano Dance Chicago, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, River North Dance Chicago, Thodos Dance Chicago as well as independent artists Abigail Simon and Mauro Villanueva. The evening closes with a world premiere finale choreographed by Randy Duncan.
Plummer grew up in a small town in Indiana and began taking tap classes at 5. "My Mom said I was very rambunctious and she needed to give me something to get my energy level down," he said. "I was bouncing off the walls." Tap classes progressed to jazz, tumbling and ballet. His teacher took him to dance workshops on weekends, but dance wasn't something he thought he could do as a career.
After one year of college, he began to look for alternatives. At 18, he moved to Chicago after receiving a scholarship to study at Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago (now Giordano Dance Chicago). While dancing as an apprentice there, he heard another local company was looking for a male dancer. Plummer auditioned and joined River North Dance Chicago, where he spent several years honing his craft. "I had all of these amazing, mature artists to look at," he said. "I learned so much there. It really opened my eyes."
He eventually decided to leave company life and go out on his own as a choreographer. "Once I got in, I thought that would be it and I would have this feeling of 'I'm there,' but it never came. I just didn't feel done. That's when I realized that what I really wanted to do was create."
Plummer filled his time teaching and choreographing, making a name for himself and developing as an artist. In 2002, while on a vacation cruise, his life took an unexpected turn. While cliff diving in Barbados, Plummer hit a sandbar headfirst at low tide and broke the C5 vertebra in his neck. "It changed everything," he said. Two months immobilized in a neck brace left him emaciated and weak. "I was skinny, but I had nothing to back it up. It forced me to find something. I'd always wanted to get into aerial, so I went to Vegas for a couple of weeks and trained."
In 2005, he incorporated C5: Create with no limits, his production company that fuses aerial arts with dance. C5 has numerous corporate clients, including Royal Caribbean, as well as making new work for dance performances including DFL, where they have collaborated for many years with choreographer Harrison McEldowney to create a unique blend of high-energy dance and aerial work.
Plummer met McEldowney while at River North. The two dated for a few years and now work together artistically. The non-couplePlummer is singlelive together in Uptown. "I'm the organized list-maker," said Plummer. "His artistry has always been chaotic, but we'll push each other to get it done." Their DFL collaborations have evolved over the years going from incorporating a small aerial stunt like Plummer flying over the audience on silks to last year's showstopper, Red, White and Black that had male dancers bounding with difficult dance steps on bungee chords.
After the success of last year's work, "Jerison" (as one friend has named them) was invited to create another world premiere to close the first half of the show again this year. With only three weeks to prepare and rehearse the dancers, time is of the essence. "It's going to be fun. It will be a little bit nutso, like everything we do."
The details of the new work are top secret, but expect to be surprised as Plummer says its something they have never done at DFL before. Having been involved in DFL for so many years, one would think it could get old. Not for Plummer. "I'm so grateful to be a part of it," he said. "I'm not at a place where I can write a big check to the cause. This is my chance to really put everything I do into something so important. That's huge."
Looking back on his life-changing accident, Plummer is nothing but grateful. "A friend said to me, 'That accident was so good for you, because you're so much more pleasurable to be around'. He's blunt, but to come back and do what I'm doing and then again some, is just amazing."
Dance for Life presented at The Auditorium Theatre at Roosevelt University, 50 E. Congress Pkwy., Saturday, Aug. 17, at 8 p.m. A pre-performance gala will be held at the Hilton Chicago, 720 S. Michigan Ave., beginning at 5 p.m. Tickets are $50-$75 for performance only and $200-$500 for gala reception and premiere seating at the performance; call 312-922-5812 or visit www.danceforlifechicago.com .
Also this month:
The seventh annual Chicago Dancing Festival takes place at various downtown venues Tuesday, Aug. 20, through Saturday, Aug. 24. Tickets are free, but reservations are required. All weeknight events are sold out, but unused tickets will be released 15 minutes prior to the performances.
The Celebration of Dance at Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park on Saturday, Aug. 24, at 7:30 p.m. is free and open to the public. A gala performance and benefit will be held at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago Ave. on Wed., Aug. 21. Gala tickets are $250; visit www.chicagodancingfestival.com .