The dancers of Pennsylvania Ballet will once again step outside the box to feed those in need. Celebrating its 18th year, “Shut Up & Dance” is the ballet’s annual one-night-only show to benefit Metropolitan Area Neighborhood Nutrition Alliance, which prepares more than 70,000 home-delivered meals each month for individuals and families living with HIV/AIDS, cancer or other life-threatening illnesses.
Out Pennsylvania Ballet dancer Jermel Johnson choreographed one routine and will perform in the March 20 event with 26 other dancers. He talked to PGN about how the show allows the dancers and their fans to stretch their creativity.
PGN: How is the performance at “Shut Up & Dance” different from the performances you do with the Pennsylvania Ballet? JJ: This year, I’m actually choreographing a hip-hop dance for “Shut Up & Dance.” Pennsylvania Ballet is only ballet and some contemporary work. So we would never get the chance to choreograph — or even dance in — a hip-hop performance.
PGN: Is everyone involved doing something that is completely outside of the realm of ballet? JJ: Not totally. All the work is done by our peers instead of someone paid to come in and set it or something that’s been around for years and taught to us. All of the works in this year’s “Shut Up & Dance” are new and choreographed by the dancers.
PGN: Is there any healthy competition among the dancers to outdo each other at this event? JJ: Not really. I think “Shut Up & Dance” is a time for any ideas or movements that we want to get out of our heads just to put something together and have fun with it. I think the main goal is to have fun with any of the choreography that we try to put out.
PGN: Aside from this performance, have you or the other dancers done volunteer work with MANNA? JJ: I have not. I’m not sure if other dancers have. They may have.
PGN: How much time and energy goes into putting together a performance like this? JJ: For the choreographers and the dancers, it’s working after hours. Usually, our day goes from 9:30 in the morning to 6. These past couple of weeks, we’ve been staying later, from 6 to 8, after our normal day just to try to put our work together. Some people have been working on the weekends as well.
PGN: Does this show tend to draw more fans of the Pennsylvania Ballet or people who normally wouldn’t come to see a ballet performance? JJ: It’s a little of both. People who have come and seen the ballet do come. I think a lot of people who know the dancers so well want to come see them in another element.
“Shut Up & Dance” will be held at 8 p.m. March 20 at the Forrest Theatre, 1114 Walnut St. For more information or tickets, visit www.mannapa.org/sud or call (215) 496-2662 ext. 138.