Le Ballet Hot at 2018 Shut Up & Dance MANNA benefit

by Lewis J Whittington for The Dance Journal| photo credit: Arian Molina Soca

The 26th annual Shut Up & Dance benefit for MANNA staged by the Dancers of the Pennsylvania Ballet at the Forrest Theatre on April 14 was once again a rowdy and dance substantive event. This year the producing director Alexandra Hughes taking over the reins from Ian Hussey and in true ballerina fashion not skipping a beat orchestrating what proved to be a memorable dance occasion that brings together Philly communities to raise funds for MANNA, the organization that delivers free meals to people battling life-threatening illness. The one night only benefit performance and VIP pre-party raises upwards $125,000 for the organization.

John Jarboe, Bearded Ladies Cabaret diva, stepping in for two-time host Martha Graham Cracker who had to bow out at the last minute. In a hilarious video clip that kicked off the show, Martha is performing in Vegas, but filmed being stalked by Jarboe and pushed down a flight of stairs ala Showgirls. Jarboe burst down Forrest Theatre aisle and launched into opening number The Grapes of Wrath’ devised by Hughes and Hussey, that had the Pennsylvania Ballet dancer dancing amok in campy outfits as Jarboe belted out Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’ backed up by his fine Bearded Cabaret band headed by musical director/keyboardist Heath Allen, with Jimmy Coleman (drums), Steve Bestkrone (Bass) and Emily Bate (Guitar).

The theme for the show was ‘food as medicine’ and aside from being in great voice all night, Jarboe slung some shamelessly bawdy hash in between the dance numbers and needless to say he had this multi-generational, diverse GLBTQ and straight audience eating out of his hands.  He even roused the crowd to get up and clasp hands to sing our National Anthem and launched into ‘Over the Rainbow’ Everybody seemed to lustily sing out.

Then it was all about the dancers and dances and here are some of the highlights-

Choreographer Courtney Nitting’ ‘Not 1, But One’ scored to baroque-y music by Karl Jenkins, fueling a fleet ensemble of eight Pennsylvania Ballet dancers performing a driving neoclassical style with a captivating central duet by Craig Wasserman and Jacqueline Callahan.

And classicism continued with choreographer Nicolo Fonte’s ‘Ghost Stories’ a sensual pas de deux danced by PAB principals Sterling Baca and Oksana Maslova was so intimately acted and this couple built smoldering chemistry performing Fonte’s lyrical and intimate lifts that kept evolving.

In a completely different key was Adrianna de Svastich’s ‘Why Try To Change Me Now’ set to a ballad by Fiona Apple and danced by Julia-Rose Sherrill and Austin Eyler as the charming young couple trying to work out their feelings and keep hitting the wrong moves- until they don’t.

Choreographer Asya Zlatina danced an excerpt from her piece ‘BARRY: Mamaloshen in Dance!’  Zlatina and Harlee Trautman portraying mother and daughter and expressing joyous Jewish traditional dance that tells the story of their bond.

In hilariously severe contrast to tradition and classicism, Brian Sanders JUNK dancers Teddy Fatscher and Kelly Trevlyn were the zombies who revived their waltz from ‘Dancing Dead’ set to John Denver’s ‘Annie’s Song’ (You Fill Up My Senses) with hilarious sound effects of brittle bones as the characters have to crack their limbs out of rigor mortis- when they break into a waltz-time Fatscher hurls Trevlyn in the air and she just crash lands on the ground.

‘My Name is Nobody’ choreography by Aaron Anker set to industrial music by Daft Punk/Moby, Peter Weil, in flesh tight and looking near nude writhing on the floor and vaulting through the air expressing anguished solitude. But in fact, he is not alone, as Yuka Iseda, Kathryn Manger, Santiago Paniagua and Jack Sprance swirl around him.

Jarboe appearing as various fruits and veggies, and at one point in a banana costume serenading Ian Hussey and James Ihde in a tableaux portraying MANNA’s volunteer kitchen crew. They have chopped one too many carrots and break into dance and bound off the stage into the audience as Jarboe belts out the old barnburner Gotta Move ala Streisand.

During intermission, the audience swarmed around the Forrest lobby for a Prosecco toast. After the break, two student dance troupes wowed the audience in the second half. First, the Royals Band Dance Line jump-starting the audience with their propulsive rhythmic communal choreographed by Marques Furr and Jiamond Watson. And later 13 dancers from the University of the Arts mesmerized with ‘Imprints’ to pulsing music by Cole and Jill Scott.  Dancer-choreographer Kaila Garretson’s streaming hip-hop lines and eloquent footwork over the Forrest stage with razor-sharp ensemble unison and infectious esprit.

Zachary Kapeluck and Andrea Yorita equally charming in those eerie headdresses, reviving their quirky duet from Trey McIntyre’s hit ‘Big Ones’ set to Amy Winehouse’s blues ballad ‘Valerie’

‘Pathways’ choreographed by Telmo Moreira, to vocals by the great tango singer Mariza, a scene de actione with four PABallet couples acting out in smoldering ballet-tango fusion in fiery love scenes with an electrifying duet with Nayara Lopez and Zecheng Liang, punctuated with Laing’s saber leg air-slicing aerials.

Aside from James Ihde letting an audience member rip off his shirt every year (earning $100 for the cause) of course, the signature piece of SU&D is the performance Mikhail Fokine’s ‘Dying Swan’ scored to Camille Saint-Saens, on this night performed by cellist Jennie Lorenzo and pianist Trisha Wolf and PAB principal Dayesi Torriente floated a most tragically beautiful Swan.

Jarboe is literally his face peeking out of a giant fish costume. As a chorus line of dancers surrounds him for a ‘Flashdance’ (What a Feeling) big floppy finale. Needless to say, by that time everyone was completely off the hook.

MANNA CEO Sue Daughtery updated everyone on the continuing expanded services of the organization in their state of the art new facilities in Fairmount and their always expanding mission to serve the community.

Hughes appeared at the end of the show and thanked the staff at MANNA, the dance artists, former director Hussey and the technical staff at the Forrest Theatre who gave their time and talents for the fundraiser. Hughes told the crowd “It is not often that we get the opportunity through our love of dance ….to directly benefit our community. And I’m so honored to have put this show together.“

The dance revelry continued as many audience members continued the dancing at the afterparty with the cast at Voyeur nightclub in the gayborhood, with WXPN host DJ Robert Drake spinning all of the right tracks for all the right Shut Up & Dance moves.

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MANNA (Metropolitan Area Neighborhood Nutrition Alliance) is a non-profit organization that cooks and delivers nutritious, medically-appropriate meals and provides nutrition counseling to neighbors who are battling life-threatening illnesses such as cancer, renal disease, and HIV/AIDS.  Through our delivery of 3 meals a day, 7 days a week, MANNA provides hope and nourishment to the Greater Philadelphia area and Southern New Jersey. Volunteers are the heart of MANNA; each year 4,200 caring neighbors chop, cook, dice and deliver meals – enabling MANNA to provide all meals and counseling FREE OF CHARGE.

For information call 215.496.2662 | www.mannapa.org

About Lewis J. Whittington

Lewis Whittington is an arts journalist based in Philadelphia. He started writing professionally in the early 90s as a media consultant for an AIDS organizations and then as a theater and dance reviewer for the Philadelphia Gay News. Mr. Whittington has covered dance, theater, opera and classical music for the Philadelphia Inquirer and City Paper.

Mr. Whittington’s arts profiles, features, and stories have appeared in The Advocate, Dance International, Playbill, American Theatre, American Record Guide, The Harvard Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide, EdgeMedia, and Philadelphia Dance Journal. Mr. Whittington has received two NEA awards for journalistic excellence.

In addition to interviews with choreographers, dancers, and artistic directors from every discipline, he has interviewed such music luminaries from Ned Rorem to Eartha Kitt. He has written extensively on gay culture and politics and is most proud of his interviews with such gay rights pioneers as Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings.

Mr. Whittington has participated on the poetry series Voice in Philadelphia and has written two (unpublished) books of poetry. He is currently finishing Beloved Infidels, a play about the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh. His editorials on GLBTQ activism, marriage equality, gay culture and social issues have appeared in Philadelphia Inquirer, City Paper, and The Advocate.

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