Once upon a time, Pennsylvania Ballet dancers Leslie Carothers, Kelly Moriarty, Michael Sheridan and Nick Stuccio (the latter before becoming the lord of the Fringe Festival and curator of the Fringe Arts HQ) created what they believed to be a one-time performance event to raise much-needed funds for MANNA, a nonprofit organization that delivers meals to those with life-threatening illnesses.
That dance-a-thon, Shut Up & Dance, did the trick. Not only did the ballet-based gig continue to annually raise over $150,000 for MANNA since its 1991 start; in total, it has earned nearly $2 million in the last 25 years, along with becoming an event dedicated to spectacular one-night-only performances.
“The Dying Swan” ballet routine is its only constant in this 26th year of Shut Up & Dance.
The performance will introduce Pennsylvania Ballet soloist Alexandra Hughes in her debut as the company’s producing director, along with welcoming for the first time performance artist John Jarboe & the Bearded Ladies Cabaret as hosts of the 2018 iteration.
“Shut Up & Dance was founded by the dancers of the Pennsylvania Ballet 26 years ago as a way for the local dance community to contribute to the fight against HIV and AIDS here in Philadelphia,” said Laura Payne, a MANNAspokesperson. “It’s such a special partnership to us, and we’re so grateful that the tradition has lived on at the Ballet and its current membership. Shut Up & Dance is a night of remembrance and celebration, and an incredible example of how all Philadelphians come together.”
The idea of “all Philadelphians” isn’t just restricted to those in the audience and those in need of nourishment. First-timer Jarboe — last seen in Arden Theater’s production of “Cabaret” as the emcee — and the Bearded Ladies will add nuance. As Philly’s doyen of experimental cabaret arts, Jarboe has graciously stepped in to fill the shoes of the night’s usual host, Martha Graham Cracker, “at her request while Dito Van Reigersberg is performing in Las Vegas,” noted Payne. Along with Jarboe’s crew, “this year, over 40 performers from Pennsylvania Ballet, BalletX, University of the Arts, and Brian Sanders’ JUNK will fill the stage,” she added.
As for Alexandra Hughes, the Pennsylvania Ballet soloist who is making her debut as the company’s producing director, is thrilled that her first big gig is Shut Up. “Stepping into the role of producing director this year has been very exciting for me, but it also feels very natural — especially having danced in Shut Up & Dance for seven years, and having been a part of the production team for the last five years,” said Hughes. “There are so many things that have to come together for this show to happen, but every year I am amazed at the dancers’ dedication to this event. Shut Up & Dance is known for being such a special night — often full of surprises — and I’m sure this year will not disappoint.”
Shut Up & Dance will be held Saturday April 1414 at 8 p.m. at the Forrest Theatre, 1114 Walnut Street, 215-496-2662, for more information: www.mannapa.org/dance