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Shut Up and Dance - Dancers of the Pennsylvania Ballet

Benefit Wows Philly Crowd

by Lewis Whittington

March 10, 2004 -- Merriam Theater, Philadelphia

For the third year in a row, principal dancer David Krensing kept the earnest fun in Shut Up and Dance, the annual fundraiser by the Dancers of the Pennsylvania Ballet. The event's regular venue, the Forrest Theater, was pulled out from under the dancers when an incoming musical was scrubbed and the theater was shut down. Fortunately, along with the Philadelphia Flower Show uptown last week, the dance showcased rare blooms on the stage of the Merriam Theater.

The event raised over $100,000 in a single evening for Metropolitan AIDS Neighborhood Nutrition Alliance (MANNA), the organization that delivers 50,000 meals monthly to people in the tri-state area living with HIV/AIDS. Hosted once again by WXPN's Michaela Majoun addressing the sold-out crowd, she dubbed the show "the feel good evening of the year." Greg Goldman, executive director of MANNA, expressed his deep appreciation to the dancers and to his staff of over 1000 volunteers at MANNA.

The following are a few of many highlights of the performance that had an appreciative crowd hanging on every step and left them cheering down the aisles.

The opening work "Extraordinary," scored to the high-voltage vocal of Liz Phair had the throng company dancers looking great in BVDs and breaking out in club moves a la balletic under the combined choreographic work of Heidi Cruz, Meredith Rainey, David Krensing and Tara Keating. It was a bare bones, showoff montage that got everybody in the mood.

Then, Juan Carlos Peñuela stated the themes for Rainey's electric piece "Six to One" set to music by Bjork, with sumptuous opening moves in front of five other men all dressed in black club togs. The "Sixth" Heidi Cruz made her stunning entrance on pointe, in what looked like a couture gold firebird headdress by Gaultier (actually Cruz designed it herself). There were stunning group lifts, and at one point the men are at her feet; as she piques by them, they flip like a cresting wave which she dives into and rolls atop them.

Two charming dance interludes came next. First, "Ennui" choreographed and danced by Christine Cox and Krensing, a sexual comedy dance to the Rufus classic "Tell Me Something Good." Seated on a bench, the pair work themselves awkwardly into lewd positions that left the audience cheering and cocking their heads. That was followed up by a sweet romance by choreographer Harley Rowe called "We’re going to be friends," an "Our Town" scenario with Jonathan Stiles and Martha Chamberlain as the heartland sweethearts. Chamberlain can convey every emotion with a look and gesture and taking all that in the moment was the buoyantly charming Stiles.

Heidi Cruz was this evening's MVP, dancing in multiple works and choreographing two. Her dance for six women "Aquarela" contained beautiful moments, but lacked both rhythmic cohesion and a liberated flow. Ebbing into simple geometric patterns that gave way to rushed and awkward body positions made the group movement look forced. In contrast, Cruz's other offering, "Atardeser Azul," swept everyone away. It evoked a cool island evening with ten dancers joining Cruz for dance rounds to Susana Baca vocals. Cruz let her dancers pulse on the sidelines then burst forward, then make way as a male trio flies in. Then David Austin takes over with adagio hip-hop fusion. At various points Peñuela and Valerie Amiss were partnered in smoldering Afro-Caribbean moves.

Quite simply, no one was prepared for the simple beauty of Brian Sanders' piece "Cellophane" (excerpted from his larger work "Junk," a hit of last year’s Philadelphia Fringe Festival). With a transcendent performance by Michael Patterson, it was perhaps the evening emotional highlight judging by the roar of the crowd.

Last year Sanders suspended himself in a hammock onstage for a comic swing of absurd poses; "Cellophane" is a dramatic flipside. Costumed in a black spandex boxer, the sinewy dancer crouched under a spinning metal frame -- then laced through it and then over the spinning sculpture. The ironic title refers to the illusion of confinement and even suggested passage into another dimension.

Patterson hoisted himself up in various positions of daring and beauty that drew grasps and applause from the audience. Sanders, not content with tricks and dazzle, makes this a transcendent movement meditation that brings Patterson to symbolize everything from a homoerotic dream from Jean Genet to Jesus at Calvary.

Jamar Goodman's "Arising Dreams," set to the whirling dervish music of Philip Glass, has dancers silhouetted dramatically against the bare back stage of the theater, and dancers fly in and out in double time pirouette runs and jetes. Rainey's "Nap Time" has him in a meditative duet with his great partner Riolama Lorenzo (they were paired again in Cruz's work). The pair are dressed in messed kids pajama bikinis as they frolic to a haunting tarantella on toy piano by Toby Twining, like adult children with intimacy past sex. "Effervescent Feather" is a quartet for three women and one man by Christine Cox in a curiously freewheeling romp between music of the baroque and highland jigs with Laura Bowman, Tara Keating and Emily Waters eluding the rogue attentions of James Ihde.

Every year there is anticipation over who will perform and how they will interpret Fokine's "Dying Swan," which from the first SUAD became a symbolic dance tribute to those who have died of AIDS. This year Natalia Charova, leaving PAB at the end of this season, gave a studied, but emotionally captivating performance.

The interval film of "Queer Eye for the Ballet Guy" made in two days by Phillip Colucci and Jonathan Stiles, had come out guys Matthew Neenan, David Krensing, James Ady, Peñuela and Andre Vytoptov teaching the hapless (and straight) Colucci how to queer up for a ballet audition. They decorate his locker, groom his hair and tell him how to act. He loses the part anyway -- I think it was that sash around his waist. But the biggest laugh came with a single glance when Peñuela took a café break checking out guys on Philly streets. Naturally, a dancer looks like no one else.


Edited by Lori Ibay

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