BWW Review: The Second Annual CHITA RIVERA AWARDS Honored Outstanding Members of the Dance World During a Diverse and Delightful Evening of Performances
On May 20th 2018 at NYU's Skirball Center in Greenwich Village, dance lovers were treated to a non-stop evening of award presentations and riveting performances during the second annual Chita Rivera Awards. Known as the Fred and Estelle Astaire Awards from their inception in 1982 until 2017, the awards honor excellence in dance and choreography both onstage and on film. The inaugural Chita Rivera Awards on September 11th 2017 were somewhat somber given the date and its history of 9/11, but the 2018 celebration was joyous and jubilant from start to finish.
A highlight among many memorable moments was the presentation to living legend Carmen de Lavallade of the second annual Lifetime Achievement Award. Looking as lithe and lovely as ever at 87, de Lavallade delivered an acceptance speech that emphasized the vast new array of opportunities for today's young dancers including acceptance of diversity in the dance field and a continuing trend toward the fusion of dance genres. To everyone's delight, she did an impromptu series of her iconic dance moves before she made her exit. The enthralled audience rewarded her with a standing ovation.
Click here for a full list of nominees and winners. Of particular note was the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society (SDC) Director Award for Exemplary Collaboration with Choreographers that went to director and producer Hal Prince. Also notable was the award for Outstanding Contribution to Musical Theater that went to composer John Kander. Chita herself, now a head-turning 85 and sporting a stylish red pant suit, offered up her hallmark wit and charm as she presented Kander's award. Like de Lavallade, Chita couldn't resist showing off a few of her best-loved dance moves. Once a dancer, always a dancer!
Along with the award presentations and acceptance speeches, the event featured first-rate performances by both established stars and emerging talent. For starters, accomplished tapper Evan Ruggierio, who lost most of his right leg to cancer and now has a peg leg, danced with astonishing aplomb in "Nil Desperandum" from the Off Off Broadway musical Bastard Jones. Marc Acito, sharing the stage with Ruggierio quipped at the end of Ruggierio's's solo, "Yeah. You're a dancer. A dancer dances". The simultaneously funny and poignant reference to the lyric from A Chorus Line made famous by Donna McKechnie was definitely appreciated by the crowd. This was one of the many instances that underscored the sense of fondness and family that pervades the dance world, not only in NYC but around the world.
Joel Gray, the unforgettable Master of Ceremonies in Cabaret, sang a snippet of his trademark song ("Willkommen! And bienvenue! Welcome!") as he introduced a tribute to John Kander. Choreographed by Susan Stroman, "Pizzicata" to Kander's music for the Off Broadway show The Beast in the Jungle was danced with world class technique and stage presence by former ABT principal Irina Dvorovenko and Tony Yazveck.
The proceedings moved on from there to the award presentations for Film and for Broadway interspersed with captivating performances both in song and in dance, as well as film clips. Among these, a stand-out was none other than Harvey Fierstein singing "If I Were a Rich Man" from Fiddler on the Roof with flair and panache. Two other especially good performances were Lindsay Croop from the Dance Theatre of Harlem in the late Geoffrey Holder's "Songs of Auvergne" originally danced by his wife, Carmen de Lavallade, and Georgina Pazcoguin from the New York City Ballet with Calvin Royal II from the American Ballet Theater hamming it up in Holder's hilarious duet "Dear Quincy" to "Soul Bossa Nova" by Quincy Jones.
The evening ended on a high and hopeful note with the performance of "Sing, Sing, Sing" to the music of Benny Goodman by a talented and well-trained group of young dancers from The Art of Dance studio in Chester, New Jersey, with choreography by Valerie Harman.
Write yourself a reminder on your 2019 calendar so you won't miss the next iteration of the Chita Rivera Awards that are already becoming a beloved tradition. You'll be glad you did!
Photo by Christopher Duggart