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American Dance Machine for The 21st Century – Dance Review

Sheila Kogan, Contributing Writer, Dance Review, December 29, 2015

The American Dance Machine for the 21st Century is dedicated to preserving and performing choreography from all kinds of musicals. The members of this multi-talented group are experienced professionals who can dance, sing and act in every style ever designed. Whether in a ground-breaking ballet, a rock opera, a tap dance, a high-energy show stopper, or a variety of productions in between, these Broadway babies are fabulous. It’s unfortunate that there were no photos in the program, making it difficult to determine who performed what − which I hope that the producers will address. Each one of these hardworking “gypsies” deserve specific recognition. I say, “Bravo!”

I was so happy to notice that there were “live” musicians behind a scrim in the background. The music director Eugene Gwozdz matched the dancing with high-quality music performance. It feels more like a real, top-level Broadway show without the “canned” music that often accompanies dancers at The Joyce. But it is a delight to watch dance in the smaller venue of The Joyce Theater instead of a cavernous theater.

With the exception of the Jack Cole sequence, there is no self-conscious introduction or unnecessary patter. One number follows another with only a projected sign announcing the show, the year, the choreographer and any awards given. The choreographers’ list is impressive: Agnes DeMille, Jerome Robbins, Michael Bennett, Bob Fosse, Jack Cole, Tommy Tune, Gene Kelly, and many others.

I sat in the auditorium with a perpetual Cheshire cat grin on my face. I was so completely captivated and enjoyed myself so much I wanted to sit through it all again. I hope that they bring back this show or another version with other dance numbers. Congratulations to Wayne Cilento who directed this extravaganza with intelligence and a brisk pace, and also to Nikki Feirt Atkins who picked up the baton from Lee Theodore (the founder of the original American Dance Machine) and made this special treat possible for those of us who love Broadway musicals and live theater. You may be able to see some musical numbers on YouTube, but truly, there’s nothing like a real, live performance.

Because there were so many individual pieces, and some of them lasted mere minutes, it’s impossible to describe every one and what I liked about it. The scope of the styles was fascinating and each number was special for being so entertaining in its own particular genre, and for being presented on such a professional level. I really don’t want to choose a favorite, but just to give you an idea of the variety, here’s a short list to indicate some of the moments I remember (in no particular order):

  • The psychological dream of Agnes DeMille’s ballet from Oklahoma!, which still works as a drama despite its age; the gestures from the world of early modern dance; the simple moves that create drama (like the way the dancehall girls threaten by shaking their ruffled skirts); and those macho cowboys on pretend horses
  • The isolated, angular movements of Bob Fosse’s iconic choreography for Manson Trio from Pippin (that helped both Ben Vereen and Patina Miller win a Tony)
  • The show-stopping Sweet Georgia Brown that slowly built from a quiet, silly beginning to hit the rafters
  • Jerome Robbins’s complex choreography that seems so natural for teenagers ripe for a fight, and the music of Leonard Bernstein – Cool from West Side StoryAlso Robbins’s choreography for Mr. Monotony, with music by Irving Berlin.
  • The clever, slap-happy number Our Favorite Son from The Will Rogers Follies choreographed by Tommy Tune 
  •  Happy as the Day is Long choreographed by Warren Carlyle from After Midnight, reminiscent of the coordinated tap dancing of the Nicholas Brothers, which then segues into the boxing match from Golden Boy choreographed by Donald McKayle 
  •  Michael Bennet’s A Chorus Line The Music and the Mirror (staged by Donna McKechnie, who won a Tony for the part of Cassie in the original production. I believe that I saw it performed by Lori Ann Ferreri, a very talented singer/dancer with great stamina). Also a Medleya crowd-pleasing sequence which gave each member of the company the opportunity to come out one by one wearing those top hats. The excited audience applauded heartily throughout the entire piece, thrilled to let each performer know how much he/she was appreciated.

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