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PABallet dancers once again ShutUp &Dance for MANNA at the Forrest Theater

For the 27th time, the dancers of the Pennsylvania Ballet will perform their annual Shut Up and Dance benefit concert for MANNA (Metropolitan Area Neighborhood Nutrition Alliance). The one-night-only dance event is staged at the Forrest Theater in Philadelphia and directed for the second year by PABallet soloist Alexandra Hughes.

Two weeks before the event, Hughes was in rehearsal as one of the muses in the company’s upcoming performances of Apollo, as well as orchestrating all of the benefit performance details. Hughes has performed and worked behind the scenes for the event since joining the Pennsylvania Ballet eight years ago. 

Putting on the show is just one aspect of the dancers’ volunteer work with MANNA, “they are such an amazing organization,” Hughes said in at a rehearsal at PABallet studios last week, “what they do for our community is so vital and important. They are pro-active in their mission and expanding their reach all the time.”    

MANNA’s provides free nutritional meals to clients with HIV-AIDS, cancer, diabetes and other life-threatening diseases, 365 days a year in the greater Philadelphia region.  “Just the cost of medical treatment sometimes prevents people from being able to afford to buy proper food. I’m happy that for all these years they allow us this opportunity and they can count on us to help them on their mission. We don’t usually don’t get to use our art form to benefit the community in this way.”  Last year the event raised upwards  $125,000 for the organization.

 The event is a showcase for the company dancers and guest from other dance troupes to choreograph and perform in a broad range of dance styles.  One constant in the performance is a boffo opening number and closing numbers, traditionally choreographed by the director in collaboration with the dancers, “I’m going to keep the opening and closing a secret for now.  No political themes, everybody is talking about that stuff, but I’d rather keep the focus on MANNA and dance and this wonderful organization.”  The show usually is a sell-out, and equally popular is the VIP cocktail reception before the show that takes place in the Forrest Theater.  

But Hughes did announce the soloist who will perform Mikhail Fokine’s ‘Dying Swan’ an annual event in itself.  it will be danced will be Ian Hussey, a PABallet who is retiring from the company after this season. Hussey started dancing with the company 25 years ago as a child in the Nutcracker and retires as a =principal dancer and audience favorite.  

“It’s going to be Ian Hussey. Ian and choreographer Colby Damon are going to re-imagining ‘Dying Swan’”   Ian is retiring at the end of this season with the company. He’s been such an integral part of Shut Up & Dance. So this seems a perfect way to honor him too,” Hughes said.  The iconic solo was choreographed by Russian master Mikhail Fokine, scored to music by Camille Saint-Saens and will be performed live by cellist Jenny Lorenzo and pianist Patricia Wolfe.

Hughes said among that there will be much more live music in this year’s show, always a different dance concert experience for both the dancers and the audience. The benefit concert has been a showcase for the dancers and guest dance artists to create their own choreography that shows not only their contemporary ballet artistry but their range in other dance idioms.  Also performing in the opening and closing numbers, are the house down divas Martha Graham Cracker and John Jarboe.

 As is the tradition, several choreographers are from the PABallet roster, including choreography by PABallet dancers Aaron Anker, Adrianna de Svastich, Lillian DiPiazza. And guest dancemakers include contemporary classicist choreographer Durante Verzola;  dancer-choreographer and visual artist Gunnar Montana; Caili Quan and Richard Villaverde, both soloists from the BalletX;  dance Acrobatic troupe Almanac. Also Hughes said that she was excited about a late entry on the program by Emily Davis, a member of the PAB corps de ballet “There will be Irish step dancing from Emily, who was a world class competitor at one time in that field. I think she’s going to bring the house down.”   

 Returning are the always electrifying young dancers from the University of the Arts, who are students of former Pennsylvania Ballet principal dancer Michael Sheridan, who was one of the co-founders of the event in the early 90s, to raise money for MANNA, at the height of the AIDS crisis, whose initial mission was to provide meals for people battling the disease.     

And Hughes hints at a few other surprises “The sense of diversity and inclusion of the dance community and audience engagement continues to be so powerful,” Hughes intimates, “yes, it’s my favorite dance show.”  

MANNA presents Shut Up & Dance 2019 on April 13 at 8:00 at the Forrest Theater,  1114 Walnut St. Philadelphia, PA | for more information about MANNA visit www.mannapa.org | for tickets go to www.mannapa.org/event/shut-up-dance-2019