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Look out, Shut Up & Dance turns 21

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by Lewis Whittington for The Dance Journal

For the second year in a row, Pennsylvania Ballet principal dancer Ian Hussey is again directing Shut Up and Dance concert benefit for MANNA. This year 26 dancers from PB will be participating and Hussey has been working on the event between rehearsals and performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

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Ian Hussey between SU&D rehearsals

Hussey took five after the dance day regimen at PB studios last week and did admit that the event feels rushed this year, but “every year it’s different, so you just go with it. We started kicking around ideas in January and within weeks were doing costumes, choreography and music, it‘s always a great experience. It’s a little bit difficult this year because Midsummer has been intense rehearsal period. When I took over as a director, I wanted to reignite the passion in the dancers to know that it is our show, we need to come together as dancers,” he said. It just somehow comes together every year,”

Even though SU&D was the undisputed “feel good event of the year”  AIDS benefit fatigue and the sagging economy resulted in diminishing audiences and donors. At last year’s 20th anniversary, though, the Forrest Theater sold out and the benefit raised a record $150,000 for the cause in a single evening.

Last year’s benefit was, indeed, a performance to remember, galloping out of the gate with what was perhaps their best opening number, Madonna’s Vogue blasted through the Forrest Theater and two dancers in white tights came on and were draped with a giant red ribbon and then, year-by-year, the dancers re-staged all 20 of SU&D’s dynamic posters. By the middle, the audience was pounding the rafters as the dancers re-staged all 20 of SU&D’s dynamic posters.

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PB dancers Craig Wasserman, Kelsey Hellebuyck, Eric Trope and Leah Hersh in studio with Hughes

How to top that this year? As is the tradition, Hussey is keeping it secret. This year’s poster, though gives hints, is another stunner-  Ballerina Caralin Curcio posing as a voluptuous, plumed Vegas showgirl in pointe shoes  “Well, we thought, we’re 21 now, so lets reflect that somehow,” Hussey observed.

“All I’ll say is that it’s going to be a really rowdy, out of control scene. It‘s going to be different from previous years, lets just say it doesn‘t end with the opening.” Hussey didn’t want to say more, but did admit that somewhere during the evening, “There are going to be showgirls.”

“It important to have this show grow every year to bring in more money for MANNA. We’re trying out new ideas about how to structure the show and reinvigorate it. There are definitely cool things going on this year,” he said.

Hussey dove into the dance-making pool this year too, with onsite; improvisational choreography for a dance film by Candice DeTore and Harry Paris called Willow Bank, which will be premiered during concert. “We shot it in one day at this beautiful house in Bryn Mawr. It’s very much like a dreamlike dance film. There is nothing about it that reflects the theme this year, the filmmakers just wanted to make a beautiful piece of art. It‘s great to have things like this to shake up the structure of the night and keep people guessing,”

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Choreographer Alexandra Hughs working on her yet to be titled piece scored to Charleston jazz

Over the years, SU&D has become an incubator and showcase for dancers who want to exercise their choreographic voice. Hussey said that it is important for him as director, not to interfere with each choreographer’s creative decisions. The list this year includes Enza DePalma, Chloe Felesina, Jake Helgenberg, Alexandra Hughes, Roni Koresh, Harrison Monaco, Meredith Rainey, Alex Ratcliffe-Lee, Eric Trope, Craig Wasserman and Matthew Neenan.

The dancers also make time for the community outreach that includes the annual gay bar crawl.  As much funsies the dancers have at these events, they never loose sight of MANNA’s mission. Susan Daugherty,  

MANNA executive director, said last week “They are putting this together during the height of their season.   They are so inspirational. Every year we have an open house at MANNA for the dancers and this year so many came, it was packed. Here are these young dancers and they are so passionate about this. They get what the work is here and it just inspires them and us to do more,” she said.

MANNA works to face any service cutback in a tight economy. Daugherty said that in its 23 years “We have never had to deny services to a client who met the criteria. Going forward, we know that there are thousands more who need may need our services. It’s what drives us every day.  We’re in our 23 year and we’ve never had to deny services to clients who meet the criteria. It’s what drives us every day.”

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Hussey and Dancers spreading the word about MANNA and the show

Daugherty said MANNA’s unique partnership with the dancers of the Pennsylvania Ballet continues to be “Amazing and inspiring. It is such a special event for MANNA, we were founded because of the HIV-AIDS epidemic and the dancers were loosing friends dying of AIDS and they just needed to do something. That was 21 years ago and I can’t imagine that they knew then that they were building this incredible tradition…of people coming together to celebrate life and recognize loss. We‘ve expanded our services to include people with other illnesses, MANNA will always have that special kinship with the HIV-AIDS population and that is the night that you feel it. There is something in that room that makes you feel that.”

Shut Up & Dance, presented by Dancers of Pennsylvania Ballet. March 23, 2013 at 8:00 P.M, Forrest Theatre, 1114 Walnut Street, Philadelphia. For tickets and information about MANNA services go to www.mannapa.org

 

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