Entertainment » Theatre

Big Birthday For ’Shut Up and Dance’

by Lewis Whittington
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Mar 19, 2013

Pennsylvania Ballet principal dancer Ian Hussey is again directing "Shut Up and Dance" concert benefit for MANNA (Metropolitan Area Neighborhood Nutrition Alliance). This year the 26 participating dancers from PB have been working on the event between work on the ballet company's production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

Hussey 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 had an 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. It just somehow comes together every year."

Last year's 20th anniversary sell out at the Forrest Theater raised a record $150,000 for the cause. It also was a performance to remember. It began with what was the best opening number to date: as Madonna's "Vogue" blasted through the Forrest, two dancers in white tights came on draped with a giant red ribbon and proceeded year-by-year to re-create the 20 SU&D's dynamic concert posters. Midway through, the audience's approval shook the rafters.

How to top that this year? As is the tradition, Hussey is keeping it secret. This year’s poster, though it 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, let’s just say it doesn’t end with the opening." Hussey didn’t want to say more, but did admit that there would be "showgirls" during the evening.

"We’re trying out new ideas about how to structure the show and reinvigorate it. There are definitely cool things going on this year."

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. It’s great to have things like this to shake up the structure of the night and keep people guessing," he explained.

Over the years, SU&D has become an incubator and showcase for dancers that 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 at Knock, Woody’s and Tavern on Camac. As much fun as the dancers have at these events, they never lose sight of MANNA’s mission.

"They are putting this together during the height of their season," Susan Daugherty, MANNA executive director, said last week. "We’re in our 23rd year and we’ve never had to deny services to clients who meet the criteria. It’s what drives us every day.

"It is such a special event for MANNA. We were founded because of the HIV-AIDS epidemic and the dancers were losing 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. For one night only- March 23, 2013 at 8:00 P.M, Forrest Theatre, 1114 Walnut Street, Philadelphia. For tickets and information about MANNA services go towww.mannapa.org

Lewis Whittington writes about the performing arts and gay politics for several publications.


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