On Monday evening, I joined a bevy of NYC's dance elite and fans for "A Halloween Thriller," the 26th annual benefit for Career Transitions for Dancers at the newly refurbished City Center. The audience, following the suggested dress code on the invitations, showed up in gala attire and elegant costumes. I opted for retired ballerina glam with a black sequined jacket, a long black velvet skirt, lots of sparkly bling, my hair in a sleek bun, and stage make-up. My date donned a fedora and suit for a Mad Men look.
I spotted witches and ghouls, a Wizard of Oz group, several outlandish black cats, and a fair number of tutus. On the sidewalk outside the theater before the curtain, to the delight of onlookers, a ballerina in pointe shoes dodged her partner who was waving a dramatic cape for an impromptu Lucy and Dracula pas de deux.
But of course the real show, including the bestowing of awards, took place inside. The legendary Chita Rivera, still stunning at 78, hosted the proceedings. She was at her best when ad-libbing in her own inimitable style but she seemed surprisingly unprepared to read the remarks she had been given, pausing at odd moments and stumbling over names of honorees and patrons. Even so, the message got across that CTFD is the organization dedicated to helping dancers who are nearing the end of their performing lives gain new job skills for the decades to come. Two former clients, a Broadway Baby turned lawyer and a male dancer who is now an architect, spoke movingly about their gratitude for CTFD and their feeling that they are still dancers at heart.
Nigel Lythgoe, Executive Producer of the TV juggernaut "American Idol" and co-creator of "So You Think You Can Dance," accepted the Rolex Dance award with an utterly charming tale about how he thought SYTYCD would fail and how he's very glad he was so wrong.
The performance kicked off with Bebe Neuwirth and back-up dancers in a rendition of "Magic To Do" from Pippin complete with blacklight "ghosts" and Neuwirth's trademark execution of the rippling Bob Fosse arm movements. Her voice at age 53 has a definite wobble but professional singers tell me that could be corrected with some rest for the vocal chords.
Next up, 120 New York City schoolchildren, the "Celebration Team" from Jacques d'Amboise's National Dance Institute arts-in-education residencies, did an impressively well-rehearsed version of Michael Jackson's "Thriller." The choreography incorporated all the famous moves including the Moon Walk. I caught sight of Jacques in the audience, beaming with pride.
Other highlights were a terrific tap number by the New York Song & Dance Company, New York City Ballet's high-flying Daniel Ulbricht as a suitably scary Raven, and daredevil break dancing by The Street Beats Group. Lesser acts on the bill didn't quite measure up but overall the evening was wonderful, all the more so because every performer and choreographer had volunteered time and talent for this very worthy cause.
[This post originally appeared on ThirdAge.com where Sondra Forsyth is a Senior Editor.]