It’s easily one of my favorite performing arts events and one I look forward to attending and writing about each year. This year’s eighth annual “Evening with the Stars,” presented by Indianapolis City Ballet and held Saturday at the Murat Theater at Old National Centre, was no exception and without a doubt, one of my favorites.
Produced by ICB Kevin Hesse with stage direction by ICB artistic director Jolinda Menendez, the gala starred Cervilio Miguel Amador, Aran Bell, Maxim Beloserkovsky, Gisele Bethea, Irina Dvorovenko, Robert Fairchild, Carolo Di Lanno, David Moore, David Morse, Abigail Morwood, Ron “Prime Tyme Myles, Tiler Peck, Iana Salenko, Daniel Simkin, Sofiane Sylve, and Veronkia Verterich. Also featured was a new commissioned work by Cherylyn Lavagnino, student Leah Danek and Kids Dance Outreach performers. Actor Chris Stack served as the master of ceremonies.
The gala was performed in front of a respectably sized audience of enthusiastic dance fans. The popular event opened with a beguiling performance by 48 multiracial elementary school students from Kids Dance Outreach. It’s an innovative local group founded by former Boston Ballet dancer Michael J. Johnson. The mission of KDO is “to make a positive change in the lives of young people through the discipline of dance.” Exhibiting discipline, infectious energy, synchrony and showmanship, the poised students danced pieces, choreographed by KDO associate director Monica Munoz and Johnson, set to “Viva La Vida” by Coldplay, “Hoe Down” by Aaron Copland and “Goin’ Back To Indiana” by The Corporation and Freddie Perrin. At the conclusion of their program, the smiling students were given a standing ovation by many in the audience who were, obviously, emotionally moved. It was a crowd pleasing performance that inspired hope and left me wondering if any of the fresh-faced KDO students would some day become professional dancers. I certainly hope so.
It’s practically impossible to choose favorite pieces danced by the renowned professional dancers who performed in the extravaganza, made possible through the visionary efforts of ICB founders Jane Fortune and Robert Hesse. “EWTS,” with its program showcasing some of the most talented dancers in the world and works by brilliant choreographers truly an embarrassment of riches. Suffice to say, and based on the audience’s audible response, there were some crowd favorites and as well as a few that moved me deeply.
New York City Ballet principals Tiler Peck and her husband Robbie Fairchild (who was the subject of a recent “EWTS” preview I wrote), executed dancing that exemplified grace and control, when they partnered in two separate contemporary pas de deuxs. One, in Act 1 was the intimate “This Bitter Earth” by Christopher Wheeldon, set to Dinah Washington singing a mournful song of the same title, arranged by Max Richter. Wearing costumes by Valentino, Peck and Fairchild’s natural chemistry aided them in effectively conveying the struggling relationship of the characters they portrayed. The other piece, in Act 2, danced by the couple, was Liam Scarlett’s exquisite “Acheron” (known as the “river of woe,” or Hades, in Greek Mythology) about two doomed lovers, set to music by Francis Poulene Concerto for Organ, Timpani and Strings in G minor.
Russian born Daniil Simkin, an “EWTS” regular and principal with American Ballet Theatre danced in two of the evening’s biggest crowd pleasers. The first, in Act 1 was a solo from the lighthearted and technically demanding “Pacoplepluto,” with choreography by Alejandro Cerrudo, set to “In the Chapel in the Moonlight” by Billy Hill.
Closing Act 2, Simkin and Iana Salenko wowed the crowd with their artistry and technical proficiency in the pax de deux from the classic “Le Corsaire.” Seemingly light as a feather, Simkin was thrilling as he executed spectacular jumps, leaps and mid-air turns, making it alll appear effortless.
Choreographer Cherylyn Lavagnino’s “Episodes” is a new work that was commissioned specifically for the gala and was a highlight of the evening. Set to music by Rochmaninoff and Chopin, the richly romantic pas de deux featured American Ballet Theatre corps de ballet dancers Gisele Bethea and Aran Bell—two phenomenally talented rising stars in the ballet world.
Based on the thunderous shrieks of joy and applause it received from audience members, particularly the youth in the crowd, “Budget Bulgar” was also a gala favorite. Wearing Chicago Cubs baseball hats, Tiler Peck and Ron “Prime Tyme” Myles danced to the genre-blending music of Lev “Ljova” Zhurbin. Myles is regarded as one of the foremost interpreters of a style of street dance known as “Memphis jookin,'” which is the basis for the piece’s quirky, exuberant choreography by Myles, Charles “Lil Buck” Riley and Damian Woetzel. Upon seeing this piece, those in the audience who might have held a stereotype about ballet being an elitist art form, may surely have been won over.
As noted by emcee Stack who commented on the stress caused by the recent presidential election, the 2016 “Evening With The Stars” was a welcome respite from the rancor and divisiveness that is occurring still. And more that that, it was a reminder of how dance and all the performing arts have the power to soothe the spirit, heal the soul and inspire peace and harmony.
For information about The Indianapolis City Ballet and its year-long programs visit indianapoliscityballet.org. For information about Kids Dance Outreach visit kidsdanceoutreach.org