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With "Tribute" Dance Times Square Puts On Its Biggest Ballroom Showcase Yet

by Tonya Plank
October 25, 2008
Kaye Playhouse
695 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10021
(212) 772-4448
On October 25, 2008 at the Danny Kaye Playhouse, Dance Times Square, a Latin ballroom studio located in the Times Square area, produced its best student / professional showcase yet. (Full disclosure: I used to be a student at this studio). The studio's owners are Tony Meredith and Melanie LaPatin, former national Latin champions who are probably best known for their participation as choreographers on hit TV show "So You Think You Can Dance."

This showcase, a biannual event for the studio, was called "Tribute," and it was a tribute in several ways, but mainly to life, to breast cancer survivors. Toward the end of the show, women members of the Helen Sawaya Fund performed a snazzy little Broadway / ballroom number with the studio's men, the survivors all decked out in bright red celebratory cocktail dresses, the men dapper in black tuxedos. Dancer and choreographer Mercedes Ellington introduced the Fund and the dance number, and opera star Aprile Millo sang in their honor, her luscious voice resounding throughout the auditorium, without any musical accompaniment whatsoever.

It was an all-star night – the biggest the studio's had – and guest star dancers included Sabra Johnson and Neil Haskell from last season's "So You Think You Can Dance." Each performed two solos apiece, both modern dance, not ballroom. Mr. Haskell's first solo was a sexy "Movin' Out" style number (Haskell is also known for his work in Twyla Tharp's "The Times They Are A-Changin'" on Broadway) in which he wore a simple white t-shirt and jeans, and did some impressive balletic whipping fouettes, multiple pirouettes and big leaping jetes. Seeing him dance in person, you realize what a beautiful line he has. His second solo, in dress pants and long-sleeved white dress shirt, was more gymnastic with a few fun tumbling passes that the audience went wild over.

Sabra Johnson danced two pieces as well. Her first was a cutely sexy Bjork-esque number in which she wore a pink and white baby doll dress, and her second a more passionate contemporary routine of the style you'd see on the show, danced in a vibrant purple unitard. Like Haskell, Johnson's movement ability, fluidity, passion, and just sheer musculature, come out so much more clearly live on a stage than on television. The second of her solos was abstract, but she moves with such clarity and feeling, she brings you into the world she creates anyway, even if there is no discernable story. And her form is surprisingly perfect for someone who started dance after puberty; she has ideal ballet hip turn-out, showing that it's drive and passion that are more responsible for success than starting at an extremely young age.

Also guest performing was Faina Savich, also from "So You Think You Can Dance" (season two). She danced the middle, Latin, section of a three-part contemporary/ Latin/ theater routine, "Crossing," that seemed to be about angels crossing from earth to the afterlife, with professional dancers Lawrence Alexander, Julia Hubara, and Branham Logan Crane, choreographed by Tricia Brouk. Alexander, who performed the first, lyrical section, has good form and lovely lines that he showed well with many high extensions.

But stealing the show, or at least the Latin ballroom portion, were not TV stars but national dancesport championship finalists Eugene Katsevman and Maria Manusova, who performed three Latin combination routines: one primarily a Paso Doble replete with fancy, well-worked cape, one an absolutely stunning rumba that had the crowd roaring with applause, and the last a faster cha cha combination. Their rumba was probably overall the highlight of the evening. At one point, Manusova threw herself face down toward Katsevman; at the last second, he caught her, and flipped her up and over. It was a gorgeously executed trick that made the crowd go wild. But it wasn't just the stunts; they danced with such razor-sharp precision – particularly Katsevman – and passion, both for the dance and for each other. They are such a good partnership — they're both technically very good dancers, both quick and precise, and neither tries to outshine the other; they actually work as a team, which is unfortunately becoming increasingly rare in ballroom.

Michael Choi (a teacher at the studio) and his professional partner Becky Melton performed the best Standard ballroom number in the show, dancing a rich, luscious waltz with depth, breadth and emotion to Andrea Bocelli's voluptuous "Con Te Partiro." I can't imagine better music for a ballroom dance.

Another new Latin couple who performed, and who now teach at the studio, is Manuel Favilla (from Italy) and Karolina Paliwoda (from Canada). Both are good-looking and appear to be very good dancers (both are former youth champions), though Favilla is the fancier of the two, performing lots of multiple pirouettes that had the crowd literally screaming with applause. I'm not sure they worked as well together as Katsevman and Manusova, but they are a new partnership; they probably need time. Favilla will likely garner a lot of female fans with his sexy stylistics and theatrics.

All in all, it was a fabulous night, as these showcases always are. The students are loads of fun to watch, and to cheer on — both advanced and beginner. I heard several audience members say, as they were leaving, that the whole night just made them want to dance themselves, perhaps to sign up for lessons. There's definitely something to be said for a dance performance that encourages people to people get off their rear ends and do something healthy.

The interesting thing about this showcase was how multi-dance it was. Another level of meaning in the show's title was that each student number was a tribute to a favorite musical artist: Donna Summer, Gwen Stefani, Janet Jackson, Tina Turner, etc. The result was a variety of dance routines, each of which in itself contained a nice combination of Latin, ballroom, and either contemporary or hip hop – one even tap, giving the students a chance to learn a variety of dances, creatively put them all together, playing with steps to different rhythms, and perhaps, giving greater performance time to the one they excel in. It also results in a richer audience experience.

The theater was nearly sold-out, by far more packed than it's ever been, likely because of the all-star professional cast and the studio's connection with "So You Think You Can Dance," but perhaps also because the studio is beginning to branch out, including a greater number of dance styles. In any event, the biannual Dance Times Square showcase is becoming a serious concert-dance contender.
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