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Dancing on Air: A Tribute to Dance on TV - Career Transition for Dancers' Tenth Annual Gala

by Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
October 25, 2004
New York City Center
130 West 56th Street
(Audience Entrance is on West 55th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues)
(Entrance for Studios and Offices is on West 56th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues)
New York, NY 10019
212.247.0430

About the Author:

Dancing on Air: A Tribute to Dance on TV - Career Transition for Dancers' Tenth Annual Gala

Honoring Debby Allen and Patricia Kennedy
www.careertransition.org
212.764.0172
City Center, NYC
www.citycenter.org
Presented by Rolex
Directed by Tony Stevens
Executive Producer, Alexander J. Dubé
Produced and Co-Directed by Ann Marie DeAngelo
Script by Deborah Grace Winer
Music Director, Robert Mikulski
Lighting Designer, Brad Fields
Event Management, Weiss Creative Group
Press Representatives, KPM Associates,
Kevin P. McAnarney and Grant Lindsey

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
October 25, 2004

(See Shall We Dance Review, October 21, 2002 and Gotta Dance! Review, October 27, 2003).
Last year's event, the 9th Annual Gala Awards Presentation for Career Transition for Dancers (CTFD), lasted for three hours. Tonight's event, introduced with recorded music from the Jackie Gleason Show, I Love Lucy, and other dance on TV oldies, lasted two hours or less, just perfect. This annual gala is a volunteer event to benefit dancers, who have been injured or who are near retirement (for some dancers, that's 30 something), as they obtain medical assistance and career re-training for the next stage in their artistic careers. This year's event was tightly organized, with fewer and shorter speeches and fewer performances, but, as always, virtuosic dancing.

Of course, the requisite Rolex watch and Rolex Dance Award were presented, this year to Debby Allen, who was attired in a long, colorful robe and dress, and who was entertaining and charming. Her sister, Phylicia Rashad, a well-known actress, introduced this former star of Purlie, Raisin in the Sun, Sweet Charity, and West Side Story. Ms. Allen, also the choreographer of the Academy Awards, was deserving of this honor, and the audience demonstrated its pleasure, during her appearance. Patricia Kennedy, on the Board of Directors of The Joffrey Ballet, in a shimmering lavender gown and diamonds, glowingly accepted an award for Outstanding Contribution to Dance.

Speakers tonight included Marge Champion, Arthur Mitchell, Donald Saddler, Chita Rivera, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Edward Villella, Phylicia Rashad, Wayne Brady, Mercedes Ellington, and Marilyn Taylor Gleason (June Taylor's sister and widow of Jackie Gleason), and all comments and anecdotes were impassioned, entertaining, and meaningful to this event. Much of the message related to the work of Career Transitions for Dancers, as well as to the original dance programs on live TV, uniquely staged, choreographed, and danced weekly, sometimes 39 weeks/year, on shows like Ed Sullivan (who introduced Nureyev to the American public), Bell Telephone Hour, and The Jackie Gleason Show (June Taylor Dancers). And, it was all live TV, black and white.

Lover, a tribute to June Taylor, choreographed by Mercedes Ellington, after June Taylor, with black and feathery red costumes, was rousing, energetic, and acrobatic. Lover was composed by Rodgers and Hart and introduced by Mercedes Ellington, Marilyn Taylor Gleason, and Wayne Brady. A corps of jazz dancers performed this leggy, sexy, fast-paced presentation. Agon (Pas de Deux), composed by Igor Stravinsky, was introduced by Arthur Mitchell. Mitchell spoke with adulation of Balanchine, who had created this work for Mr. Mitchell and his original partner. Dance Theatre of Harlem's Tai Jimenez and Donald Williams presented Agon with a virtuosic and athletic performance.

A Look to Bandstand and Soul Train were introduced by Marge Champion and performed in a jazzy, hot Savoy Swing by a youthful corps in casual dancewear. For me, the hit of the evening was the Pas de Deux from Le Corsaire, choreography by Petipa, with a score composed by Adolf Adam, and introduced by Donald Saddler, who danced with the original Ballet Theatre. Michele Wiles and Gennadi Saveliev, of American Ballet Theatre, were outstanding in this popular work. In fact, Gennadi Saveliev danced this role in an ABT trio at the 2003 YAGP Gala with just as much bravura and gravitational daring, as he characteristically leaped around the stage backward and sideward. Ms. Wiles, a soloist at ABT, is a rising star with confidence and balance. Her endless spins, en pointe, were daring and dramatic.

Light Rain (Pas de Deux), danced by Valerie Robin and Samuel Pergande of the Joffrey Ballet, in multi-colored unitards, was incredibly brilliant. Gerald Arpino choreographed this work to a Douglas Adams and Russ Gauthier score. I would like to see this piece again, for its stark, shadowy images, with limbs in artistic formations and breathtaking, intertwining effects of two muscular dancers. Sweet Georgia Brown, dynamically danced by Jane Lanier and an ensemble of top-hatted jazz dancers in black, was choreographed by Alan Johnson and listed as courtesy of Shirley MacLaine. In the Garden, with its relationship to PBS, choreographed by and danced by Peter Pucci, partnered with Ellen Sirot, was an allusion to Adam and Eve and was well received.

Chita Rivera, ever the flirt (here with Brian Stokes Mitchell) and ever the performer, told the audience that the 29 year old retirement age for dancers was a well kept secret, as we know she keeps on dancing, and she always looks great. Mickey, an outstanding, high hormone, very athletic pop dance for the World Cup Shooting Stars All Star Cheerleading ensemble from Freehold, New Jersey, was cheer-chanted and choreographed by Toni Basil. Mickey was designed to toss dancers into the air, throwing them into the arms of this jumping ensemble, with tumbling and cartwheels. The black and gold costumes with head plumes were glowing.

The Diana and Acteon Pas de Deux, originally choreographed by Balanchine for live TV, for Edward Villella and Patricia McBride, was danced tonight by two members of Villella's Miami City Ballet. Mary Carmen Catoya and Renato Penteado performed this work, with a score by Ricardo Drigo. The leaps, lifts, and carrying of Ms. Catoya were exceptionally executed by Mr. Penteado, who should be seen more in New York. Fame, buoyantly sung by Orfeh, and danced by The Ailey School, was choreographed by Debby Allen. This high energy, contemporary dance book-ended the equally high energy, introductory piece, Lover.

Kudos to Career Transitions for Dancers and the team of the best of the best, who contributed to this Tenth Annual Gala, Dancing on Air.

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