NY Theater News : Joel Benjamin
Photos: Miriam Spritzer Video: Magda Katz
The Fred & Adele Astaire Awards which has celebrated excellence in dance since 1982 handed out its awards in a ceremony/performance at NYU’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts in Greenwich Village on June 2nd. An exciting crowd of theater artists filled both the auditorium and stage. Elegance and glitter were the order of the evening with dancers and philanthropists showing off their finery and forms.
Jared Grimes from After Midnight danced that show’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing” (Ellington), choreographed by Warren Carlyle. That both dancer and choreographer would later win in their individual award categories was fore-shadowed by the standing ovation this number received. After Midnight made a clean sweep of the Astaire awards for excellence in Broadway dance after two fabulous dancers from that show, Dormeshia Sumbry Edwards and Karine Plantadit shared the Best Female Dancer in a Broadway Show award. The awards presenters included Bebe Neuwirth, Lee Roy Reams, Marcia Milgrom Dodge and Sergio Trujillo. Desmond Richardson (also in After Midnight!) presented lovely Angel Inniss with the Adele Astaire Scholarship. She performed a sassy, prancing solo, “Mr. Paganini” choreographed by Wyndee McGovern.
Sandy Duncan and Don Correia were the rather informal, but totally charming hosts, introducing Joe Lanteri and Patricia Watt (daughter of the late critic, Douglas Watt) who were the Director and Executive Producer of the event. They gave some background to the philosophy behind the awards, hoping to focus on dancers and their art in a way that other theater awards hadn’t. Part of the philosophy also includes using dance as therapy, a program supervised by Jessica Zippin who showed some wonderful videos of her kids—most autistic—responding beautifully to music.
Keeping with the Astaire theme, a group of ballroom dancers did a version of “The Carioca,” the legendary dance number in which Astaire was first united with Ginger Rogers. The four couples wiggled hips, shared sexy glances and oozed about, giving Stephen Knight’s rather clichéd steps as much zest as they could muster. Another presentation was a work called “5/4” by honoree Luigi danced to Lalo Schifrin’s “Mission Impossible” Theme by five game young ladies illustrating Luigi’s classic jazz movements. Luigi (aka Eugene Louis Faccuito), a world renowned jazz dance teacher and movement therapist, now well into his nineties (!) is still active. Valerie Harper, Susan Stroman and Donna McKechnie gave obeisance to the great man who won his award for Outstanding Contribution to Dance Education. It’s difficult to think of a more deserving person.
Hal Prince gave a beautiful speech about Patricia Birch who was the recipient of a lifetime achievement award. Also lauding her was Steve Buscemi who told funny stories about her work with Boardwalk Empire from which a Boardwalk Empire Medley was performed: A chorus of period cuties jiggled their fringed outfits while the always amiable Stephen DeRosa reprised his Eddie Cantor character singing a version of “If You Knew Susie,” but changing the lyrics to honor Ms. Birch (“if you knew Patty”).
The cast of the Paper Mill Playhouse’s production of Grease performed a rip-roaring number and members of the American Dance Machine—Deanna Doyle & Cory Lingner—sang and danced a lovely duet from the Kurt Weill/Langston Hughes Street Scene as staged by Ms. Birch.
A stage full of tap dancers, at least 50 of them, danced Nancy Chippendale’s “Glam.” Ms. Chippendale stage managed this group with imaginative use of lines, spacing and formations, including pinwheels and kick lines. The young dancers had a ball dancing for this very demonstrative and appreciative audience.
The 32nd Annual Fred and Adele Astaire Awards – June 2, 2014
NYU’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts
566 LaGuardia Pl. at Washington Square South
New York, NY
Information about upcoming events at the Skirball Center: www.nyuskirball.org