BWW Review: The Inaugural CHITA RIVERA AWARDS Celebrated the Best in Dance on Broadway, Off-Broadway, and in Film
During a historic evening that was by turns a star-studded celebration of dance and a solemn remembrance of 9/11, the inaugural Chita Rivera Awards offered both joy and solace to the packed house at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre on September 11th 2017. The honorees for the year's best dance and choreography on Broadway, Off-Broadway, and in film included not only luminaries in categories such as Outstanding Choreography in a Broadway Show and Outstanding Choreography in an Off-Broadway Show, but also recognition for the Outstanding Ensemble in a Broadway Show and a Lifetime Achievement Award that went to Tommy Tune. For the full list of nominees and winners, click here.
Chita Rivera herself, looking as head-turning and agile as ever at 84, presented Tune with his award. The other presenters were dance world legends as well: Donna McKechnie, Baayork Lee, Karen Ziemba, and Carmen de Lavallade, among others. Bebe Neuwirth hosted the proceedings, which were directed by Randy Skinner and produced by American Dance Machine for the 21st Century (ADM21) and its Founder and Producing Artistic Director, Nikki Feirt Atkins and Patricia Watt. ADM21 re-branded and re-launched the awards that had been known as the Fred and Adele Astaire Awards from the inception in 1982. I was particularly charmed when Bebe Neuwirth announced with an impish grin that she was hosting "The Chitas", and then confessed that she could hardly wait to say that.
The same intimate tone was a hallmark of the event, with dancers reveling in being among their own while giving or getting well-deserved recognition, and presenters adorably fumbling with opening the sealed awards envelopes. A sense of community and family prevailed throughout.
Not only that, but the performances interspersed among the award presentations were first rate. Robert Fairchild, soon to leave the New York City Ballet to concentrate on his musical theater career, proved he has the chops as a jazz and tap dancer extraordinaire. A highlight was The Teen Company by Kanyok & Cosentino with choreography by Grady McLeod Bowman. The sizable group of talented and superbly trained youngsters took the stage with admirable prowess and pizazz, offering a glimpse of what's in store for Broadway and Off-Broadway as these kids and their ilk come of age.
At one point, Antonio "Nino" Vendome, a restaurateur and arts patron who collaborated with architect Philip Johnson on the "Habitable Sculpture", took the stage to receive an award for opening his Canal Street restaurant 24/7 following 9/11 to offer free meals for all the workers cleaning the debris. He also led the community in establishing a "commando cooking operation" that took over all four lanes of Canal Street between Varick and Hudson in order to serve more than a million meals gratis over a year's time. His award was for Outstanding Contribution to the Arts and Humanities, a fitting tribute that elicited a thunderous ovation from the audience.
When the house lights went up, performers and dancegoers alike flocked to nearby Sardi's for a festive After Party. Maria Di Dia, my BWW guest for the evening, is well-known in the industry as a producer so she and I jostled amiably shoulder to shoulder through the crowd, greeting and hugging our long time associates and friends amid the squeals and laughter of others doing the same. At one point, Chita spotted Maria and waved with a huge smile. What a perfect finale to an occasion that succeeded in honoring the memory of 9/11 while offering a sense of hope and unity for the future. As Lord Byron wrote, "On with the dance! Let joy be unconfined".
Photo by Walter McBride