The Pennsylvania Ballet will perform “Shut Up & Dance” at 8 p.m. May 21 at The Forrest Theater, its annual fundraiser for the Metropolitan Neighborhood Nutritional Alliance, which provides nutritional meals to those with lifethreatening illnesses such as HIV/AIDS.
MANNA executive director Richard Keaveney said the agency is hoping to raise at least $100,000 from the event, a figure that would cover the cost of food and packaging for about 64,000 of the 80,000 meals it delivers in one month.
Keaveney said fundraising is especially vital this year, as the organization is poised to lose about $500,000 in state funding.
“We’re losing the state support because of the change in administration and legislative positions, but thankfully we have seen an increase in individual gifts and the corporate and foundation communities are picking up steam again,” he said. “But it makes us work as hard as possible to get as many people as we can in The Forrest Theater for what always proves to be an exciting event.”
This year’s show will have a decidedly more upbeat feel, said producing director Jonathan Stiles, in part because of the shift of performance date from March to May, necessitated by scheduling conflicts.
“The rehearsal process is different every year, and I’ve come to see that the process really does affect the show,” Stiles said, noting that dancers this year held more daytime rehearsals than in the past and, on account of Daylight Saving Time, were also able to conduct nighttime rehearsals before the sun went down. “In others years, it’s been dark out and colder but this year, since it’s later in the year, I think it’s helped us to have more fun with the pieces and resulted in a more lighthearted, spring- or summertime program.”
Stiles, who has been involved with the show for 12 years and this year will perform in addition to his directing duties, said the pieces range from contemporary ballet to hip-hop inspired, with music from Chopin to Serge Gainsbourg to Björk.
“There’s really a lot of diversity this year,” Stiles said, adding that the show will also feature contributions from those who’ve been a part of each “Shut Up & Dance” performance, as well as some who are participating in their first.
Keaveney said the enduring enthusiasm among the dancers has been a defining characteristic of “Shut Up & Dance.”
“One of the things we’ve been really happy about is that the torch keeps being passed down to the younger dancers,” he said. “When this started, HIV was just exploding in the city and there were a lot of dancers from the ballet who were dying. So in the past few years, we weren’t sure what was going to happen when the people who started this back then retired from the ballet, but we have been so fortunate that the younger members of the ballet have embraced MANNA. They seem to really be excited to bring this into its third decade.”
Twenty-five company members, as well as some from the junior company, will participate in the show — more than half of all of the organization’s members.
Stiles said that while the dancers do invest a great deal of time and energy into the show on top of their normal schedules, the effort is always rewarded.
“We’re fortunate in that we get to do something we enjoy doing. It’s a lot of hard work but we get to dance and perform and do what we all love to do. The reaction we get from the audience at the end of the show always energizes us for the next year. When you’re staying late after a long day of work and doing so much extra work, it’s easy to get tired, but all we think about is how great that night always is and the energy that we get at the end of the show and at the after-party, where we can celebrate with the community. That’s always a great payoff.”
Tickets to “Shut Up & Dance” start at $50 and can be purchased at www.mannapa.org/mannaevents/sud. An after-party will be held at Woody’s following the performance.
For more information about “Shut Up & Dance,” visit www.facebook.com/pages/Shut-Up-Dance/240553091087?ref=nf or follow the event on Twitter at @shutup_anddance.
Jen Colletta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.