BWW Review: Luigi Benefit-Tribute Concert Showcased a Memorable Teacher's Life of Dance
Luigi...A Benefit-Tribute Concert
December 28, 2015-7:30pm
Symphony Space, NYC
Tonight's performance was to celebrate and honor the life of Eugene Louis "Luigi" Faccuito's jazz technique. He was the father of jazz dance and a father-like figure for dancers, singers, actors, and anyone who needed his encouragement. Luigi's mantra was "Never stop moving."
And he did just that, even after his paralyzing car accident at the age of twenty-one up until he passed away last year. He demonstrated the power to overcome a debilitating medical prognosis, one which inspired the creation of the Luigi Jazz Technique-the base of most jazz choreography today. This, in turn, brought in students from around the globe, celebrities before they became famous, and those that had the courage to trust in his guidance of the body's abilities. "Supernatural" describes what Luigi did for so many.
This benefit-tribute concert was hosted by Bonny Diaz and John Sefakis. The cast included an abundance of Broadway dancers and singers, actors, songwriters, choreographers, and his dance students that were all inspired and touched by this man. The band's musicians, made up of saxophone, drums, guitar, bass, and piano, was a favorite of mine because live music is so much more moving when heard in a theater. The show line-up was so vast in both acts that, for this review, I will highlight the performers and pieces that stood out to me.
Natalie Enterline, performing to the song My Way, sung by Trevor McQueen, was one of the top three performances. Her act began with her version of the iconic Charlie Chaplin character. Shortly after classy slapstick choreography, she morphed (thanks to the magic of Velcro and snaps) into a stunning cherry red pantsuit accompanied by a roaring twenties straw hat. It was in her precise movement that she captured my attention. I had not seen someone dance, spin, and present themselves with such charisma since Ann Reinking in All That Jazz. Even though Ms. Enterline wowed the audience with her intricate baton throws and tricks, what made her performance enthralling was Luigi's jazz technique mixing intermittingly with her own style. As a dancer, I could feel how centered she was with her seven or more spins before catching her baton mid-air, and even when she stretched and lengthened upper-body movement it was solid-centered jazz technique.
It was Freddie Cresente's original song, Keep on Movin' that moved me immensely. He told the audience that this song was created especially for Luigi. Mr. Cresente's lyrics hit home for me because he sang about the life of a dancer. The merry-go-round ups and downs, people blocking you on your way, to get up and fight...keep on movin' were some phrases and words that epitomize aspects of a dancer's life. The tune and sincerity of his voice and song could fit into almost any old or new Broadway show about dancers, or even more so, about so many other themes within one's life.
On the celebrity side of Luigi's influence, a video captured Ben Vereen, Liza Minnelli, Ron Dennis, Robert Morse, Elliot Gould, Gretchen Wyler, Barbara Luna, and Estelle Parsons to name a few. All were students of Luigi before they were stars and returned to his classes many more times during their careers. They all spoke with such loving feelings of how he made them feel accepted and instilled a way for them to have longevity to dance. Karen Giometti, longtime Broadway performer, read testimonials of students regarding what Luigi meant to them. She read responses from dancers who reside in Japan and Australia, ballet dancer Jacques D'Amboise, and even Madonna, who was also a contributor.
The entire evening had over twenty pieces that demonstrated either Luigi's jazz technique, songs sung in memory of his accomplishments, and words honoring him. Tony Award Winner Melba Moore added her tribute to Luigi in two songs-I Got Love and Lean On Me. Francis J. Roach, master teacher, choreographer, performer, and manager at Luigi's Jazz Centre in New York City, added his words of tribute to Luigi to round out the evening.
We wouldn't know Luigi without the influence of Gene Kelly who, interestingly enough, gave Luigi his name. As we were told, Mr. Kelly didn't want two Eugenes on the set of Singin' in the Rain. Thus, he looked at this young dancer and told him that his name would now be Luigi.
I'd like to end this review with words from the Maestro himself-"Stand in your spotlight."