The Various Joys of the NDI Gala
Wonderful things happened at the NDI Gala on Monday night. Allegra Kent played a buoyant, pleading mouse. Harry Belafonte watched a slew of kids dance for him. Jacques d’Amboise joked amiably with the audience.
Belafonte walks with a cane now, but his speaking voice is still mellifluous. Always involved in social justice causes, he praised Jacques d’Amboise’s “unending humanity,” and said that the purpose of art is to inspire.
This gala for National Dance Institute, at Nokia Theatre, certainly was an inspiring evening. Just seeing all those kids—all ages, shapes, and colors— dashing around the stage, knowing just where to go and relishing getting there, made me happy. D’Amboise inspires not only thousands of children to dance, but he also inspires, via NDI’s teacher-training program, many ex-dancers to teach.
The gala was titled “Storytelling Around the World.” There was a lovely duet called “A Tale from Egypt” that was gentle, like brother and sister, choreographed by Christopher d’Amboise that ended sweetly with her putting her head on his shoulder. (And of course Christopher’s own sister Charlotte was on hand to speak briefly too). And then Isaiah Sheffer narrated “The Lion and the Mouse.” My instincts tell me that Allegra Kent has not played a mouse since the first time she was in Nutcracker more than 50 years ago. I’ve never seen a mouse wear glasses or knock her knees more charmingly than Allegra Kent. Actually, the bow was the best part ’cause she spontaneously jumped from side to side.
Here comes a really big cliché: It was a joy to watch the young dancers. Actually, they were young people who were dancing, not necessarily professional-track youths. But they all—every single one—have opened up their own spout of energy, and that makes for freedom and delight onstage. The last dance, the one for Belafonte, was choreographed by Julio Leitau (director of the terrific Harlem-based children’s troupe Batoto Yetu) and Bianca Johnson. They sent about 50 kids hurtling into West African steps in a dance that kept you watching, not only for the children’s exuberance but also for the craft of choreography.
Top: Allegra Kent and Frank Wood. Botton: African Finale. Photos by Eduardo Patino, courtesy NDI