Highlights of the Astaire Awards Ceremony

June 1, 2009

In this star-studded event last night, the best performance was Bebe Miller singing, with her arms floating up and undulating as though she were a dying swan—or a recent bride (which she is). Simple moves by Bebe are worth more than a platoon of preteens tapping in spangles. She sang two songs from the movie Easter Parade: “Simply a Waltz” and “It Only Happens When I Dance with You.” Her voice slips between smoky and innocent, and with her sly attention to every detail of movement, she is transported and transporting.

    Another highlight was the film montage of clips of films directed by Stanley Donen, who received the Douglas Watt Lifetime Achievement Award.  We saw Gene Kelley Singin’ in the Rain, Fred Astaire and Jane Powell slumming it in Royal Wedding, Astaire dancing on the walls and ceiling in the same movie, Astaire with Audrey Hepburn lilting in a fairy tale waltz in Funny Face, and the rowdy frontier guys of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers whooping it up at the barn raising.

    Naturally Kiril Kulish was amazing in his “Electricity” solo from Billy Elliot, where he tells what he feels about dancing. The boy is whippet clean in his delivery, but the most amazing part was, just when he should be totally out of breath from all his leaps and à la seconde turns, he has to sing some more, and his voice was still strong.

    The most memorable recipient of an award was Pia Glenn, who received her award for Best Female Dancer from no less than Savion Glover. This tall beauty, taken back (since You’re Welcome America, A Final Night With George W. Bush wasn’t even a musical), and humbled, said, “It was just me and my thunder thighs up there dancing.”

    The evening was wittily emceed by Scottish actor Alan Cumming. Other awards (no surprise to me as I was on the nominating committee) were Best Broadway Choreographer: Peter Darling for Billy Elliot; Best Male Dancer: David Alvarez, Trent Kowalik, and Kiril Kulish for Billy Elliot; and Best Film Choreographer: Longines Fernandes for Slumdog Millionaire.