A Dance Tribute to Hollywood
Honoring Cyd Charisse, Fayard Nicholas, Donald O'Connor,
And Turner Entertainment Company
City Center, NYC
Presented by Movado
Directed by Randy Skinner
Executive Producer, Alexander J. Dubé
Produced by Caitlin Carter
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
Review by Dr. Robert E. Zlokower
Originally Published on ExploreDance.com
October 27, 2003
Last year's event, the 8th Annual Gala Awards Presentation for Career Transition for Dancers (CTFD), lasted for 90 minutes. Tonight's event lasted almost three hours, with no intermission. This event, in honor of Hollywood, and the dance stars of Hollywood that inspired the dancers of today, young and old, who may eventually benefit from guidance and assistance from The Caroline & Theodore Newhouse Center for Dancers, named for its benefactors, Caroline and Theodore Newhouse. CTFD provides career counseling to dancers over 30 years old, who usually retire at such a young age. It assists with scholarships for college and transition-related seminars. Tonight, Virginia Johnson of Pointe Magazine, spoke of her transition from Dance Theatre of Harlem performer to journalist. The recent loss of Caroline Newhouse inspired many fond thoughts and memories from tonight's speakers and presenters.
Cynthia Gregory (Bio), whom I have enjoyed, in performance, in numerous ballets in years past, welcomed the sold-out audience at City Center on a very rainy night. Spirits were not dampened, and warmth, humor, and dance were the menu of this lengthy feast of Hollywood memorabilia and celebration. But first, the National Dance Celebration Team danced in a rousing rhythm to the title song from the 1952 film, Singin' In The Rain, a propos to this evening's weather, following Broadway Melody Ballet. With great lighting effects and split timing, this rousing opening to the evening's festivities energized and entertained the very packed City Center audience.
An excerpt of the 1948 film, The Red Shoes, was theatrically portrayed by members of the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company. I recognized members of American Ballet Theatre, who danced in this ensemble, including Sandra Brown, sister of Leslie Brown, who spoke onstage later in the program. This piece was all smoke and magic, with Craig Salstein (also of ABT) as the Shoemaker and Keith Roberts as the Boy in love with the Girl. The Russian Gypsy passages by the Company were passionate and colorful.
George Chakiris and Russ Tamblyn, of the original 1961 film, West Side Story, introduced members of New York City Ballet, including Deanna McBrearty, and Mr. Chakiris described dance as "an incredible means of expression". I regretted not seeing Chita Rivera tonight, as America was her song. Jenifer Ringer and Amanda Edge, as well as the entire female ensemble, were sexy and energetic.
Arlene Dahl, an ageless and classy star (See Bio), spoke in her perfectly poised manner about the late Donald O'Connor (See Bio), who had planned to be present for the Career Transition for Dancers' Award. This posthumous award was a loving tribute to a dancer's dancer, called Mr. Showbiz by Anne Miller, according to Ms. Dahl. Throughout the evening, Donald O'Connor, Gene Kelly, and Fred Astaire were all eulogized in warm memories, stunning tributes, and humorous anecdotes.
For a balletomane, such as I, this eclectic evening of song and dance had just the right amount of ballet and, of course, just the right Pas de Deux. Leslie Browne, a former Principal of ABT (whom I immensely enjoyed, season after season), spoke about her family's ties to ballet, and, specifically, to ABT. Ms. Browne had starred in Turning Point with Mikhail Baryshnikov, and the Romeo and Juliet Balcony Scene was re-enacted here with grace and elegance, ethereal lightness and chemically connected partnering, by Ashley Tuttle and Angel Corella. This is the pivotal scene in this mainstay of ballet repertoire. Ms. Tuttle, who recently appeared on Broadway in Movin' Out, was in peak ballet form, in this whisper of a duet, and Mr. Corella danced like a hummingbird in flight, with lightning spins and attentive partnering.
Tonight's selection of dances was numbered to provide contrasts in mood and rhythm. Rosie Perez warmly spoke of Carmen Miranda's (See Bio) history and introduced The Lady In the Tutti-Frutti Hat, a tribute to Carmen Miranda. With a backdrop of large colorful fruit, The Banana Girls, from Las Ballets Grandiva, playfully danced with enormous yellow bananas, reminiscent of the historical, Chiquita Banana Lady. The featured Banana Lady was actually a male in drag, Victor Trevino, who danced with Oswaldo Muniz. Mr. Muiz actually conceived the costumes and hats for this work, and they were brilliant and campy. The Latin Conga rhythm was contagious and cute. The dancers were innocent and ingénue.
Cynthia Gregory introduced Virginia Johnson, mentioned earlier, and Ms. Johnson provided a poignant Testimonial to Career Transition for Dancers services and benefits. She also spoke fondly of Caroline Newhouse. The following speaker, the ageless Jane Powell (See Bio), who used to be one of my paper dolls, as a child, and who now appeared in a shapely and revealing bright green dress and would have danced, had Jacques D'Amboise been well enough to attend, but was recently injured, so Ms. Powell remained at the podium, but with so much charm and so much charisma. She's still a paper doll. The National Dance Institute Celebration Team danced again, this time in Appalachian Clog Dance, as a tribute to Ms. Powell's 1954 film, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. This rodeo styled work was reminiscent of Agnes de Mille's prairie dances.
The mood shifted again to hustle, with Saturday Night Fever, and I coincidentally mused about my Hustle lesson with Robert Vance at You Should Be Dancing Studio, during this performance, when, much to my surprise, the choreography was created by a teacher from this dance studio. With arms outstretched under two spinning strobe lights, these very talented dancers showed the audience true hustle, although the presenter called this "Partnered Disco".
In the next introduction, Maurice Hines, dance partner and brother of the late Gregory Hines (See Bio), whom I happened to have spoken with on a few occasions, spoke enthusiastically and very humorously about the famed Nicholas Brothers, of Tap Dance Fame, and about the 1984 film, The Cotton Club, choreographed by Gregory Hines. Some of tonight's speakers seemed less at ease than others, and Mr. Hines was probably the most entertaining, except for the next award winner, the 89-year-old Fayard Nicholas (See Bio), the remaining Nicholas Brother. But, to stay another moment with this Tap performance, The Williams Brothers were splendid in tap duos and leap-frogging choreography from the film. Gregory Hines was sorely missed onstage.
Now, to return to Mr. Nicholas, another ageless star of stage and film, who told the audience, "You're old, when your back goes out more than you do", we saw this octogenarian-plus dance and sing with his new wife, a tall blond star of her own stature, Katherine Hopkins-Nicholas, to Chattanooga Choo-Choo, from the 1941 film, Sun Valley Serenade. Marge Champion (See Bio), famed partner of dance duo, Marge and Gower Champion, appeared onstage in Merry Widow Waltz, from the 1934 film, Merry Widow, with Donald Saddler, former ABT star. They then recounted all the famous partners of all the famous Hollywood dancers of old, especially those of Fred Astaire (See Bio) and Gene Kelly (See Bio). The re-created Kelly dance was from the 1951 film, An American in Paris, and the re-created Astaire dance was from the 1937 film, Shall We Dance. These sultry, sensual, and evocative dances were staged and performed with style and energy, but I longed for the real stars, Gene and Fred.
Ageless stars kept appearing, and Cyd Charisse (See Bio), introduced by the adorable Bebe Neuwirth, as the dancer with legs so long that movie screens became wide, walked slowly onstage in a glistening and flowing white pantsuit, so lovely, so classy, and still so sexy. Ms. Charisse confided to the audience that she had been struck with polio at the age of six and danced to heal her body. She certainly healed quickly, as she is a renowned star of stage and screen, having danced with Fred Astaire, whose first glances caused her to plié, so she would not appear too tall to partner him in filmed dance sequences.
Cyd Charisse spoke of her husband, singer Tony Martin, and Marge Champion spoke of Bob Fosse, a collaborator with her husband, Gower. This introduction led to Big Spender, a dance from the 1969 film, Sweet Charity, performed by Ann Reinking, Bebe Neuwirth, and Ensemble. This group of ten female dancers sat astride a ballet bar in dressy black outfits and breathed sensuality and steam onto the effectively lit stage.
Robert Osborne, from Turner Entertainment Co., introduced Esther Williams (See Bio), who, although recently injured, walked onstage with two, young, muscular athletes in skimpy swimsuits, whom she kissed and caressed. Ms. Williams presented the final Career Transition for Dancers Award to Roger L. Mayer of Turner Entertainment Co. for the excellent restoration of films and for televising Esther Williams' films at 7 AM, when she says she loves to watch herself.
The next work, probably my favorite ballet Pas de Deux, from Swan Lake, Act III was dramatically introduced by Lynn Redgrave, who theatrically affected a Russian accent to recall famous Russian dancers among all the stars of ballet films. Specifically, she recalled Nureyev, who partnered Margot Fonteyn (See Bio), the Principal dancer from the Royal Ballet. They had appeared in the 1970 film, The Music Lovers. Performing the Black Swan Pas de Deux were stars of the Royal Ballet, Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg.
They performed this signature work with almost the right amount of connected passion, especially considering the fact that this was a ballet excerpt, and they did not have two Acts behind them to lead into this dance of seduction and destruction. As in the same Pas de Deux performed recently by Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the dancers stopped, mid-dance, for audience accolades, when they should have built the momentum to a frenzy and bowed at the very end of the second sequence, perhaps allowing a short bow after the first sequence, but not mid-sequence, as the emotional and physical tension breaks on and off stage.
These dancers were exceptionally skilled, with extraordinary leaps and lifts. I saw new choreography, with Odile's leg wrapped in back of Siegfried's body, with Siegfried lifting Odile quite high, just holding her arm, and with Odile's leg straight to the ceiling in several sequences. This was a textured and towering performance, and I look forward to seeing this Royal Ballet duo again, either in NY or abroad. Hooray for Hollywood, from the 1937 film, Hollywood Hotel, ended this multi-layered and very satisfying program. Marni Nixon made a valiant effort as vocalist for the effervescent Hoofers, among whom was Melissa Giattino, known to this writer as a vivacious Tap and Broadway dancer.
Kudos to Career Transition for Dancers, kudos to Gotta Dance! presenters, performers, organizers, publicists, technicians, and awardees, and kudos to all the Hollywood dancers of yesterday. I wish they were here, but they surely smiled tonight with pride.
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