On the Forrest Theater stage for the first time in two years, and alas, the last time, was this chapter of the dancers of the Philadelphia Ballet’s Shut Up & Dance (SU&D) benefit for MANNA, as the organizations re-conceive the event for the future.
As XPN radio host Michaela Majoun famously dubbed it – “The feel-good night of the year,” this finale performance was another dance and community night to remember.
MANNA CEO Sue Daugherty spoke of how meaningful the partnership with the Philadelphia Ballet has been. Outreach administrator Rob Saxon, Jr. honored SU&D co-founder Michael Sheridan for his ongoing commitment to the organization.
The speeches were emotional (and short), as was a film about MANNA’s mission that featured priceless archival footage of some of the first benefit performances from the early 90s.
Producing director Jacqueline Callahan orchestrated a three-hour show packed with dance diversity and something for everyone. Callahan, who has worked behind the scenes for several years putting together the benefit, said for this final performance, “I didn’t know if I could handle it.” But it all came together for another legendary night of dance.
Here are a few random highlights.
As has been the tradition, the dancers were on stage and warming up as the audience filed into the Forrest Theater for this swansong performance.
Artist John Jarboe of The Bearded Ladies Cabaret was back as emcee, and one boffo/buffa singer in a bedazzled mirrored unitard stomping the stage in death-defying stilettos. Jarboe, accompanied by Heath Allen and his band, belted out a disco version of Rogers and Hammerstein’s ‘I Should Have Danced All Night’ medley as the Philadelphia Ballet dancers flooded the stage in a circular stream of Flashdance balletics.
If there was one choreographic thread, it was a new generation of dancers that revel in ballet fusion, starting with ‘Elevation’ choreographed by PB principal dancer Zecheng Liang with Denis Maciel, Fernanda Oliveira, Ashton Roxander, Jack Sprance, and So Jung Shin. Maciel opens with a stunning solo, followed by a series of intriguing duets, beautifully executed.
Next, Brian Sanders JUNK’ Beaus Tease offered a peek at his last tango on sawhorses. Danced with smoldering control, if not an erotic degree of difficulty by Katherine Corbet, Mikhail King, and William Brazdzionis to music by Bizet no less.
Choreographer Eric Trope’s ‘Quiet Music’ scored to music by Nico Muhly was an exemplar of contemporary classical line and danced by PB principals So Jung Shin and Alexei Babayev.
In fine voice all evening, John Jarboe especially stole the show with his fulsome rendition of “Somewhere over the Rainbow” while sitting on the skirt of the stage ala Judy, but making it his own, citing “the queer folks in the audience….already know all the words.”
‘Certain Nocturnes’ was choreographed by Charles Askegard with ballerinas Lucia Erickson, Emily Wilson, and Sophie Savas in silky, at ease phrases en pointe and switching up partnering turns with danseur Ashton Roxander set to music by Francis Poulenc.
In contrast, Almanac Dance Circus Theatre’s Mae West and Ben Grinberg were adorned in pink velvet tighties and offered ‘Put it On and Feel More Like You.” Their performance was a mix of some hand-to-feet sexy body sculpting and escaping moves with some comedic degrees of difficulty.
‘Fayertech’ is set to joyous communal Jewish folk music choreographed by Aysa Zlatina with an ensemble of six women in long silk skirts that flared out as they whirl over the stage and dance-mime expressions of cultural traditions.
UArts dancers Eli Alfau, Christian Dudley, and Daniel Palladino blew the roof off with razor-sharp unison work and expressive solos in the atom-splitting rhythm choreography of Juel D. Lane’s ‘Focus and Break.’
The equally mesmerizing trio of Kathryn Manger, Marjorie Feiring, and Sarah Savas danced choreographer Ben Swartz’s ‘Femme Poisson,’ a quicksilver jazz-en-pointe solos and pas de tois rondos of pure dance magic set to smoldering jazz orchestral by Linda Oh.
Many older audience members remember Matthew Neenan and Christine Cox’s dance buffa to ‘Tell Me Something Good’ performance from the early years. This year Neenan’s presented ‘Victor’, a quirky duet set to music by Heather Christian, danced with cuddly country charm by Fernanda Oliveira and Peter Weil.
And to finish this 30-year chapter of the benefit, there was Neenan’s breathtaking adaptation of Mikhail Fokine’s ‘Dying Swan.‘ Danced by Marjorie Feiring, accompanied by pianist Martha Koeneman and cellist Jennie Lorenzo performing Camille Saint-Saens’ most famous passage from ‘Carnival of the Animals.’ This time, the tempo is much slower, giving Neenan time to crystalize Feiring’s interpretive artistry in an altogether incandescent performance.
From years past, the entire cast and veteran dancers were onstage with Jarboe (now on roller skates) channeling Queen Donna’s disco anthem ‘Last Dance’ from the day in an altogether house down closing number.
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