Dance Magazine Awards, Mishaps, and Heroes

December 17, 2008

The evening of the Awards is always a special time, and I get to witness most of it from backstage, as I sort of emcee the event. It was wonderful to be just this side of the flat as I listened to Pina Bausch tell about her parents in Germany waving and crying as she waved good-bye to them from a boat on her way to Juilliard—and the warm welcome she got from Lucas Hoving on the NYC dock. I heard Deborah Jowitt “sing the barre,” recalling how Lawrence Rhodes would give class. I watched Ethan Stiefel search for words as he told of his efforts to be honest and true in his dancing. I heard Sylvia Waters confess that she was a TV dancer—meaning she danced in front of the TV as a child. (You can see all the talks and performances by clicking here.)

From the side I saw three Ailey II dancers pour their hearts into Isba, a trio Ailey choreographed in 1983 that had some proud and tender moments. I saw Spenser Theberge, a Juilliard senior, dance his own bold solo Caprice with strength and sharpness. And I saw Billy Morgan, from North Carolina School of the Arts, rip through Bournonville’s The Jockey Dance as a solo.

Which brings me to the major mishap of the evening. Actually it happened about 4:05 in the afternoon. I had been watching the two boys, Billy Morgan and Nathaniel Darst, rehearse this crisp and charming six-minute duet that Bournonville made in 1876. Ethan Stiefel, who had staged it as part of a school project (he is now the head of the dance program at NCSA), was demanding but gentle as he put them through their paces.

Billy is long and lean and very supple. Nathaniel is compact, strong, and sturdy. He was very precise with the difficult legwork, and his head movements were well coordinated and gracious, bringing out the charm of the Bournonville style. More than that, he was highly spirited and relished the moments of humor. In fact he was radiant—in every single run-through. And suddenly, on the third or fourth run-through, his face winced in pain and down he went.

Now the heroes: first, Ethan, for taking it so quietly, for calming Nathaniel, and for calling Dr. Philip Bauman immediately. Second, Dr. Bauman for rushing over within 45 minutes, and making a second visit two hours later. (He concluded it was probably a torn meniscus, which Nathaniel had had before.) Third Nathaniel, for, despite his great desire to dance that night, realizing he would have done further damage to his body and deciding not to go on. And fourth, Billy, for performing the dance as a solo with grace and brio.

And now for a much more minor mishap. I had planned to say the names of the dancers appearing in the beautiful film that Pina Bausch edited together for the occasion—I even practiced how to pronounce the names. But I felt pressed for time, so I impulsively dropped them from my script. I then regretted it because the dancers make Bausch’s incredible work happen. The dancers in the film were Helena Pikon, Julie Shanahan, Andrej Berezin, Julie Stanzak, Clémentine Deluy, Damiano Ottavio Bigi, and Shantala Shivalingappa.