What do you get when you combine a worthy cause, a lovingly renovated iconic venue, and a top tier cast of performers ranging from public school students to seasoned professionals? Answer: An evening of dance and related arts that made the whole audience want emulate the title by jumping for joy.
Billed as a "Dance Variety Spectacular," the 2012 iteration of the Career Transition for Dancers annual gala at New York's City Center on November 5th was one of the most memorable I've ever seen. Kudos to producer Ann Marie DeAngelo, a former principal dancer with the Joffrey, for perfect pacing of an event that could have been made tedious by the presentation of awards if those interludes had been speech-heavy, which they weren't. The main honoree, show business legend Liza Minelli, brought just right tone of poignant humor to the message that the work of CTFD is vital in a field where careers rarely last past midlife.
The only squirm-inducing moments during the entire hour and a half, which was uninterrupted by an intermission, were host Angela Lansbury's repeated attempts to read and properly pronounce the names of distinguished patrons. That this veteran of stage and screen would step up to the podium without her reading glasses, as she herself admitted, and then demonstrate that she had clearly not bothered to rehearse her speeches was disappointing to say the least.
As for the performers, however, all of them were first rate. My personal favorite was a flawless and fun sequence by the youngsters of Dancing Classrooms Youth Dance Company, the arts-in-education organization that was featured in the documentary film "Mad, Hot Ballroom." Those boys and girls were really good! Not one misstep marred their jubilant and polished jive, with choreography by Alee Reed to the music of Benny Goodman.
Other highlights were a running gag by Cirque du Soleil guest artist Nate Cooper clowning around on roller skates, a moving rendition of George Balanchine's "Meditation" by members of The Suzanne Farrell Ballet, a breathtaking blend of aerial acrobatics and rhythmic dance by the Hybrid Movement Company, and a masterful tap number by the award-winning Jason Samuels Smith to Duke Ellington's "Jump for Joy."
The CTFD galas typically take place toward the end of October or the beginning of November. If you're in town next year at that time, don't miss the chance not only to see what is always a mood-boosting mixed bill but also to have a portion of what you pay donated to CTFD's mission. Founded in 1985, the organization has provided countless hours of one-on-one counseling and program services at no cost to the recipients and has also awarded millions of dollars in scholarships for education, entrepreneurial grants, and certification programs.
Patron tickets and tables, which are very pricey, include premium performance seating and a post-performance "Supper with the Stars" including dancing and a live auction in the Hilton's Grand Ballroom. However, tickets for just the performance are affordable. Sight lines from even the least expensive seats are excellent so for $45, you can't go wrong!