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Gotta Dance! Astaire Award Winners

June 5th, 2013

New Jersey's The Art of Dance. (photo: David Dubuy)

Guest contributor Lindsay B. Davis kicks up her heels at the Fred and Adele Astaire Awards.

For performers used to being seen not heard (unless they are triple threats who can skillfully sing, story tell and do a grand jeté), last night’s Fred and Adele Astaire Awards was an out loud affirmation of the art of movement. Broadway performers, Hollywood celebrities and cultural critics were on hand to honor the best in dance and choreography on Broadway and in film.

Well, someone’s died and gone to Heaven! That would be me, sitting second row, gaze affixed upon a little podium and very large stage filled with Bebe Neuwirth, Harry Belafonte, Marge Champion, Judith Jamison, Charlotte d’Amboise, performance selections from Contact, 42nd Street, and Carousel, plus video montages highlighting the nominees and honoring the career of Douglas Watt Lifetime Achievement Award recipient and 93-year-old dance legend, Marge Champion.

My working emotional age throughout the evening was probably around nine, which is how old I was when I gleefully interviewed Cassie and Diana from the original A Chorus Line in 1986 for a school project and could be found taking ballet, jazz and tap classes hoping to become their replacements (that didn’t happen). My guess is the audience that filled NYU’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts for the entertaining, upbeat and oft-times very touching 2-½ hour ceremony held equally powerful memories and appreciation of the art form Martha Graham called “the hidden language of the soul.”

There were simply four categories, two achievement awards and one scholarship recipient (see full list of winners below) so the presenters and performances were as much a central focus as the actual awards. Performance stand-outs included “Simply Irresistible” from Contact (that Yellow Dress!) presented by American Dance Machine for the 21st Century, New York City Ballet dancers Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild’s breathtaking rendition of “Pas de Deux” from Carousel, the “Audition” number from 42nd Street and “Dancin’ Fool,” presented by the adorable and energetic children of Chester, New Jersey’s Art of Dance. Pass me a tissue, please!

Presenters lit up the stage as well, including Broadway heavies Susan Stroman, Karen Ziemba, Cady Huffman and Kathleen Marshall, writers Rex Reed and Michael Riedel, plus TV personalities Carson Kressley, Dancing With the Stars’ Tony Dolovoni and The Real Housewives of New York City‘s  Countess LuAnn de Lesepps, but the night belonged to the winners. Each one shared personal stories about the importance of dance and arts community support in their lives.

Winner Charlotte d’Amboise (center) and Billy Porter (left). (photo: Charles Dubuy)

Outstanding Male Dancer in a Broadway Show recipient, Eric LaJuan Summers (Motown), recounted how he came to dance late in his career after training mainly as an actor/singer. He was moved to tears by the honor. Another team MOTOWN winner, Warren Adams, became a choreographer only after an Achilles tendon tear ended his dance career. His co-collaborator and winner, Patricia Wilcox, recounted her childhood in dance therapy that eventually led to dance performance followed by choreography. Charlotte d’Amboise (Pippin) won the Outstanding Female Dancer in a Broadway Show award and in her excitement actually dropped the trophy (which broke in half)—endearing her to the entire audience. She went on to thank her extraordinary cohorts at Pippin (three of whom were also nominated in the same category) and incredibly supportive husband, Terrance Mann.

Lifetime Achievement Award winner Marge Champion with Rex Reed. (photo: Charles Dubuy)

But the most heart-warming moment came when Marge Champion, of MGM musicals, Walt Disney, and The Marge & Gower Champion Show fame, accepted her Lifetime Achievement Award from Harry Belafonte. His introduction followed by her speech captured the essence of the night — that love and dance are inseparable. Dance, said Champion, taught her that other people can do the same thing but do it their own way. That dances are none other than love scenes and a graceful, curtsey never gets old. She closed by sharing one of her own favorite quotes, “Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass but learning to dance in the rain.”

The Winners:

Outstanding Choreographer in a Feature Film: Sidi Larbi Cherkaouit (ANNA KARENINA)

Outstanding Female Dancer in a Broadway Show: Charlotte d’Amboise (PIPPIN)

Outstanding Male Dancer in a Broadway Show: Eric LaJuan Summers (MOTOWN)

Outstanding Choreographer of a Broadway Show: A tie between Chet Walker (PIPPIN) and Patricia Wilcox & Warren Adams (MOTOWN)

Douglas Watt Lifetime Achievement Award: Marge Champion

Outstanding Achievement in the Preservation of Musical Theatre: Ted Chapin

Adele Astaire Scholarship Award: Connor Yockus

Lindsay B. Davis is an arts/culture journalist, actress, playwright and director. She resides in New York City.

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