The NYC Dance Alliance Foundation held its 1st Annual Bright Lights, Shining Stars Gala at the Jack H. Skirball Center for the Performing Arts at NYU and clearly delivered on its promise of a star studded evening of music & dance with one show-stopping number after another. Following cocktails hosted by Honorary Co-Chairs Cassandra Seidenfeld Lyster and Robin Cofer, eager guests flooded into the elegant theater for an evening of unforgettable moments.
From the opening number, "New York, New York" from Leonard Bernstein's "On the Town", the crowd knew they were in for a very special treat. Choreographed brilliantly by Scott Jovovich, the piece featured a number of NYCDA alumni including Corey Snide who starred as "Billy Elliot" in a jaunty, free flying toast to the city.
Executive Director Joe Lanteri took to the stage to welcome the guests and talk passionately about the NYCDAF's mission to empower promising young dancers by promoting education, while investing in the next generation of professional artists, by offering scholarships for secondary and college education. Indeed, just weeks ago at the close of its national convention, NYCDAF awarded over $2.8 million in college scholarships.
Underscoring the success of this program, 16 of the 2011 NYCDAF scholarship winners performed the hauntingly beautiful "Prelude" choreographed by Andy Pellick and set to music of Jorge Quintero to a standing ovation, the first of many that night.
Ramping up the heat, Lanteri next presented cast members from "Smokey Joe's
Café" - Brenda Braxton, Felicia Finley, Ramona Keller and Deb Lyons - in a
sultry rendition of the Leiber & Stoller nod to women power, "I'm a Woman" that raised the temperature at least 10 degrees.
Hailed by The New York Times as "one of the great modern dancers of his time," Desmond Richardson, co-artistic director of Complexions Contemporary Ballet, lived up to the accolade with a stunning solo performance of "Moonlight" with music and choreography by his co-artistic director Dwight Rhoden.
Once again the evening turned to the "next generation" and KJ Dance Studio of Texas massed on the stage and showed their Lone Star skills with great aplomb in a piece called "Things Which Give Us Pause" choreographed by Stacey Tookey.
One of the major highlights - in an evening filled with them - was the reunion of Lin-Manuel Miranda and his Award winning "In the Heights" cast members who recreated the famous number "96,000" in which residents of the Heights spill out their dreams if they win the lottery.
Tearing up the stage to Andy Blankenbuehler's electric choreography were featured performers Miranda, Robin DeJesus, Chris Jackson, Sabrina Sloan, Isabel Santiago, Stephanie Klemons and Jon Rua backed up by an outstanding ensemble including Michael Balderamma, Natalie Caruncho, Jennifer Locke, Doreen Montalvo, Antuan Raimone, Alejandra Reyes, Gabrielle Ruiz, Kevin Santos and Rickey Tripp.
It would be hard to match this but Lanteri did in following the big rousing Heights number with the plaintive and heart wrenching solo "Electricity" from "Billy Elliot" featuring the current "Billy" Tade Beisinger another NYCDA alumni.
The second of two NYCDA award winning dance troupes, Next Step Dance also from Texas knocked the audience out with their grace and professionalism, making it hard to believe these teens were anything but seasoned pros. They sparkled in "To Build a Home" choreographed by Michael Stafford.
Next up was internationally acclaimed tap dancer & choreographer Chloe Arnold in a pounding "We Are the Music" from Syncopated Ladies. Arnold and her trio of dancers all clad in flirty Betsey Johnson mini dresses - Karida Griffith, Anissa Irving and Melinda Sullivan - tapped their way into the crowd's hearts and were rewarded with a thunderous ovation.
Bringing the evening around to NYCDAF's mission, Joe Lanteri announced the seven winners of college scholarships totaling $57,500 once again reinforcing the organization's desire to empower promising young dancers by offering funds to further their education at the institution of their choice.
A three part tribute to the legendary songstress and storyteller Roberta Flack began with Katie Thompson rendering a powerful version of the iconic "Killing Me Softly" while featured dancer Cindy Salgado swirled dreamily around the stage; Ta'Rea Campbell, Nala In The Lion King and Jersey Boys Michael Longoria paired for an updated version of the Grammy winning duet between Donny Hathaway and Miss Flack, "Where is the Love" and ending the tribute was the extraordinary Capathia Jenkins wrenching every ounce of love at first glance emotion from Flack's famed "First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" while Come Fly Away's Tony nominated Karine Plantadit and Clifton Brown formerly with Alvin Ailey performed a memorable duet capturing the moment of first love.
Tony Award winning actress and longtime friend, Adriane Lenox had the honors of introducing Ms. Flack prior to her award presentation. Lenox had the audience in stitches with the story of how her honeymoon with synthesizer player Zane Clark was interrupted by Ms. Flack's tour. Zane took off to play for Flack and then ultimately recruited his new wife to sing back up and the pair was rejoined.
A very humble and grateful Roberta Flack accepted the NYCDAF's 1st Ambassador for the Arts Award in recognition of her incredible achievements as a recording artist; her journey from talented teenager to accomplished professional which serves as a true inspiration to aspiring artists everywhere and her long time advocacy for arts education for young people.
A joyful "Feeling Good" choreographed by A C Ciulla with featured vocalist Natalie Venetia Belcon and dancers Callan Bergman, Grace Buckley, Hector Flores, Kristen Hoagland, Ryan Koss, Rachel Kreilling, Cathy Lee Ross and Holly Shunkey ended the evening on an optimistic high note.
Guests then proceed up to the magnificent glass enclosed Rosenthal Room with its sweeping views of the city for Champagne and desert reception. Sponsors for the gala evening were Capezio, Dance Magazine, Steps on Broadway and the Radio City Christmas Spectacular.
Honorary Co-Chairs of the gala are Cassandra Seidenfeld Lyster and Robin Cofer. The Event Committee included Kimberly Tiberi-Adams, Lisa Danias, Nancy Epstein, Christopher Freer, Cindy Lapes, Ramona Singer and Liz Tillotson.
NYCDAF Honorary Committee included: Ava Astaire McKenzie, Andy Blankenbuehler, Jacques d'Amboise, Susan Jaffe, Jerry Mitchell, Desmond Richardson, Chita Rivera and Michael Terlizzi. NYCDA Choreographers are Chloe Arnold, Andy Blankenbuehler, A C Ciulla, Scott Jovovich and Andy Pellick.
Kudos to Lanteri, Leah Brandon, Travis Fritsche and the entire NYCDAF team for pulling together one of the most sparkling and entertaining nights of the season
The NYC Dance Alliance Foundation is dedicated to empowering the next generation of professional dancers by advocating education and offering scholarships for secondary and college training. For the past 16 years, the NYCDA has lead the industry in offering professional weekend conventions exposing young dancers to the best of the New York City dance world in a supportive, positive and fun environment and helping them take their first steps into the professional world.
Under the auspices of Executive Director Joe Lanteri the NYC Dance Alliance National Dance Convention, the culmination of scores of local gatherings held throughout the year, has become the single most important scouting opportunity for college and university recruiters and their scholarship committees. No surprise as NYCDA alumni number among the ranks of such dance companies as Alvin Ailey, Cedar Lake Ballet; scarcely a Broadway musical is without a dancer from NYCDA and the world famed Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular recruits much of it young talent via NYCDA.
The Jack H. Skirball Center for the Performing Arts is the premier venue for the presentation of cultural and performing arts events for New York University and lower Manhattan. Led by executive producer Jay Oliva (President Emeritus, NYU) and senior director Michael Harrington, the programs of Skirball Center reflect NYU's mission as an international center of scholarship, defined by excellence and innovation and shaped by an intellectually rich and diverse environment. A vital aspect of the Center's mission is to build young adult audiences for the future of live performance. www.skirballcenter.nyu.edu
Next Step Dance Studio
IN THE HEIGHTS Performs 96,000
Desmond Richardson, Complexions Contemporary Ballet
NYCDA dancers in On the Town
NYCDA dancers in On the Town
Jean Shafiroff, Robin Cofer, Lucia Hwong Gordon, Cassandra Seidenfeld Lyster, Flor Riccio
Roberta Flack, Jeremiah James
AC Ciulla, Lisa Danias, Andy Blankenbuehler
Jeremiah James, Joey McNeely
Capezio sponsors Nina Vance, Mark Terlizzi, Carol Slobotkin, Nicki Hocker
Dance Media Sponsors
Joe Lanteri, sponsor Carol Paumgarten; Steps on Broadway
Joe Lanteri, Lisa Danias, Kathryn Dianos, Michael Demby Cain, Peter Danias
Gala Committee members Kim Adams, Liz Fitchett Tillotson, Joe Lanteri, Lisa Danias and Nancy Epstein
Robin Cofer, Joey McNeely
Adriane Lenox, Cassandra Seidenfeld Lyster, Roberta Flack, Joe Lanteri, Robin Cofer, Tom Murro
Karine Plantadit, Clifton Brown, Brooke Wendle
Roberta Flack reunites with old friends Zane Mark & Adriane Lenox
Honorary co-chair Cassandra Seidenfeld Lyster, Director Joe Lanteri, Honorary co-chair Robin Cofer
Tony Award Adriane Lenox and husband musician Zane Mark
Capathia Jenkins performed in the tribute to Roberta Flack.
Choreographer Brooke Wendle
Tony nominee Karine Plantadit performed in the tribute to Roberta Flack
The Syncopated Ladies: Karida Griffin, Chloe Arnold, Anissa Irving, Melinda Sullivan
Ramona Keller, Brenda Braxton, Joe Lanteri and Deb Lyons
IN THE HEIGHTS Cast