• Michael Mahany

From 'Together Tonight' to 'Frozen'; A Week Of Highs & Lows For NYC Dance

ABT's Misty Copeland and Calvin Royal III. Photo credit: Ruth Hogben.

With American Ballet Theatre's virtual toast to 80 years as a New York City institution on Tuesday providing such a high to start this week, the punch to the gut that rocked the theatre and dance communities after it was announced Broadway's Frozen would not reopen due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, seemed hardly fair.

It was a week chock full of both celebration and mourning. Here's a recap.

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ABT Celebrates 80 Years with Together Tonight

American Ballet Theatre celebrated a milestone earlier this week when it held a virtual presentation honoring the company's legacy as a New York dance institution.

The "unprecedented one-hour, pre-recorded presentation" marked "ABT’s 80 years through film, music, and new choreography representing the Company’s tradition of celebrating the diversity and dynamism of America through the power of world-class dance," a press release stated.

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The online-only evening also benefited ABT's Crisis Relief Fund, which provides needed assistance to ABT’s artists — dancers, production crew, rehearsal pianists, ballet masters, and education faculty — directly impacted by the loss of income due to the COVID-19 health crisis.

The live stream concert featured "Tony Bennett singing 'Fly Me to the Moon' to adapted choreography by Jessica Lang (Let Me Sing Forevermore) performed on location in Central Park by ABT Soloists Catherine Hurlin and Aran Bell, a talented couple who are sheltering in place together." Also featured was "Oscar nominee and Tony winner Cynthia Erivo performing 'America the Beautiful' against a backdrop of ABT artists and everyday Americans dancing across the nation and the world as they stay at home."

Viewers were given the chance to have a rarely-seen glimpse into ABT’s 80-year history through footage of past performances, interviews with ABT artists, celebrity greetings, performances by the ABT Orchestra, and a video montage with members of the ABT Studio Company and students of the ABT Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School introduced by New York Yankees pitcher Adam Ottavino.

Additionally, there was a tribute to the 20th Anniversary of Kevin McKenzie’s Swan Lake, a new work by choreographer Jessica Lang entitled Our Common Fate featuring ABT dancers and ABT Studio Company members performing from locations across the country,

and a newly adapted piece by tap dance legend Michelle Dorrance, in which the company's current roster of dancers performed choreography adapted from Dorrance's 2018 Dream within a Dream (deferred), honoring essential front line workers.

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On top of most of ABT's company dancers, other special guests like Katie Couric, Jennifer Garner, Kelly Ripa, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Julianna Margulies, Margaret Qualley, Chita Rivera, Deborah Roberts, Liev Schreiber, Al Roker, Nate Berkus, Jeremiah Brent, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Julio Bocca, Roberto Bolle, Alessandra Ferri, and Carla Fracci all made appearances throughout the night.

Frozen's Abrupt Closure

Photo credit: Ajay Suresh from New York, NY, USA. This file is licensed under the Creative CommonsAttribution 2.0 Generic license.

An early evening headline alert from the New York Times' Michael Paulson Thursday stopped many theatre and dance performers in their tracks.

"Frozen on Broadway won't reopen," the alert started. "It's the first musical felled by the virus and a sign of how the crisis is altering the theatre world."

Paulson's reporting explained the difficult decision Disney Theatrical Productions, the branch of the Disney organization that handles professional stage productions, had to make.

"This difficult decision was made for several reasons, but primarily because we believe that three Disney productions will be one too many titles to run successfully in Broadway's new landscape, Thomas Schumacher, the president of Disney Theatricals, said in a letter, according to the Times.

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The decision deals a direct blow to a company of dancers, actors, management teams, stagehands, house crew, casting personnel, and others involved in the musical's day-to-day operations in a time already wrought with deep industry-wide uncertainty.

Company members, like actress Ryann Redmond who was the first woman to play the role of Olaf, took to social media to share their feelings.

"I’m sad that we didn’t know it was our last show," Redmond said on Twitter and Instagram. "I’m sad for all my friends that made their Broadway debuts and only got to do a handful of performances. I’m sad that my niece will never get to see me as Olaf. I’m sad that our company couldn’t even hug each other today after learning this news."

"But, I am so happy I was given the chance to play this role," she continued. "I am so happy that I’ll always have the title of “The First Female Olaf”. I am so happy that I took on the challenge of becoming a “puppeteer” and didn’t fail! I’m so happy that I made lifelong friends in Arendelle."

Ryann Redmond as Olaf in Frozen on Broadway. Photo credit: @RyannReds.

Even as The Broadway League announced shows will be postponed at least through September of this year, and questions still ride unanswered about how and when dance and theatre will return, optimism still resides among the community.

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In association with the theatre and dance world's adopted "It's Only Intermission" campaign, the company of Harry Potter And The Cursed Child posted a quote from the great Albus Dumbledore, "We all may come from different countries and speak in different tongues, but our hearts beat as one."

Michael Mahany serves as NYC Dance News & Culture’s founder and Editor-At-Large. Additionally, he is a professional actor, singer, dancer who appears nightly in the 10th Anniversary production of 'Rock Of Ages' in New York City. He's also a co-host of the 'Pod De Deux' dance podcast. Follow him on Instagram, Twitter, or visit www.michaelmahany.com for more. Story tips? Email: michael@nycdancenews.com.

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Need something to listen to? The Pod De Deux Podcast team is diving in with a summer series, "The Women Of Broadway" with the goal of interviewing all 9 of the female choreographers slated to bring musicals to the Great White Way this season. Listen wherever you get your podcasts!

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