by Lewis Whittington for The Dance Journal
The Forrest Theatre was all but full of dance devotees of the annual Shut Up & Dance benefit for MANNA (Metropolitan Area Neighborhood Nutrition Alliance) presented by the Dancers of the Pennsylvania Ballet. The evening kicked off with ‘Rocky meets Sia’ ala the singer’s ‘Chandelier’ video with PAB dancers in blond wigs and nude skinnies dancing amok, ending in an ensemble curtsie to the song‘s lyric “All for tonight.” And it was, off and running, for the 23rd time, the feel good event of the year.
The one-night only performance raises upward $125,000 for MANNA, an organization that delivers 65,000 free meals every month to people living with AIDS-HIV, cancer and other life threatening illnesses. In her comments to the audience, Sue Daugherty, MANNA’s executive officer lauded the dancers of Pennsylvania Ballet for their longstanding relationship and work in support of the organization.
WXPN’s Michaela Majoun returned as emcee (& quick change backstage artist) giving it up that she had a half empty bottle of Malbec in her leather bag. Earlier at the pre-party for premium ticket buyers, the good cheer was already flowing. Extra celebratory this year because the organization marks its 25th Anniversary.
In addition to raising MANNA money, SU&D has become a showcase for dancers to show their skills as choreographers. In his fourth year as producer-director Ian Hussey told the audience that the dancers of Pennsylvania Ballet were “100 percent committed to MANNA’s mission.“
Hussey knew that the benefit was going to be tighter to put together this year because most of the company’s dancers were part of five rotating casts of the company’s lavish production of Swan Lake this month. The solution was Hussey invited other companies and choreographers to participate.
Here are some of the many highlights-
Colby Damon’s Courageous in the Act: Graceful in the Doing, danced by PB corps members Kelsey Hellebuyck, Alexandra Hughes and Elizabeth Wallace. Set to metronomic electronic music, Damon has this trio moving mechanically, but suggesting turmoil as they move in and out of warm pools of light. Music shifts to a smoky mountain ballade and shift to lyrical expression.
Built to Fall Apart by Russell Ducker (newest corps PB member) is a driving duet with instant psychosexual chemistry established by Lillian DiPiazza and Craig Wasserman. Full of torso tangles and inventive lifts, the intensity made for some bumpy phrasing, but so much more was going in this piece to grab onto. And this duo had full attack.
Gotta Believe, a mis-en-dance-scene by Hussey, set to music by singer-songwriter Joshua Thomas who serenaded live. James Ihde and Hussey frolic and it seems like a gay love story, until they partner Alexandra Hughes, suggesting a ménage, or not. Truffaut would have loved it.
Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers performed an untitled, but instantly compelling excerpt of an upcoming premiere of Lin’s work-in-progress. Lin’s visual poetry, however sketchy, is a drama that cast WeiWei Ma and Mo Liu dance a culturally symbolic duet in front of figures observing at a distance.
Matt Neenan, Pennsylvania Ballet resident choreographer ( got his choreographic start in the 90s at SU&D, presented an excerpt from his critically acclaimed The Last Glass, set to edgy ballad by Beirut ‘A Sunday Smile, PB principals Lauren Fadeley and James Ihde express the private lives of a couple made into whimsical and quietly volatile dance.
Rock School of Dance choreographer Justin Allen is talented enough to choreograph a classically radiant duet to a baroque operatic arrangement of Ave Maria, danced with thrilling pacing and lithe balletic precision by Harrison Monaco and Sarah Gabrielle Ryan.
Speaking of precision, on tap was the Lady Hoofers for ‘A Little Party’ number with the Hoofers splitting those two by four tap riffs into 20s flapper Charleston breaks that made the crowd go wild.
Also dancing beautifully, but not having as much fun in their scenario are Ballet X dancers Andrea Yorita and Richard Villaverde dancing ’It’s Not A Cry’ by choreographer Amy Seiwert set to Jeff Buckley more lusty version of ’Hallelujah’ Seiwert’s crowded choreography is detangled with volcanic intensity by this duo.
Where else can you see classical ballet and hip-hop back- to- back? University of the Arts School of Dance students closed the show with ‘Dansu’ a driving drill-line ensemble number choreographed by Thomas White and Celine Edmondson.
But, just before that raucous closer-
Following up her performances as Odette-Odile at the other end of Swan Lake, Lauren Fadeley was more than ready to put her stamp on Mikhail Fokine’s ‘The Dying Swan’ scored to music by Camille Saint-Saens and revived, in memoriam, every year since the first benefit, for the many dance artists lost to AIDS epidemic.
Audience members and performers not wanting the night to end and headed over to the after party at Tabu in the gayborhood and anyone would be hard pressed to see a more diverse crowd at any other bar in Philly. Just before taking the cabaret stage, Brittany Lynn, the drag rock singer who did a knockout funk number during the benefit observed, “To be able to perform at the Forrest Theatre, well…I look out into the audience and I get emotional because you can just feel that the whole crowd is there to support MANNA and the work that they do. To look out and see the love people have for their mission, it gives you a glimpse of the whole spectrum of this community.”