Before the pandemic you would never expect to see New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Broadway and Dance Theatre of Harlem all sharing the same bill together unless you were in Lower Manhattan.
The diversity represented in this single, sophisticated performance brought to a sold-out audience by iHeartDanceNYC on Monday, May 10, on the Empire Hotel’s makeshift rooftop stage at Lincoln Square was a long-awaited triumph for uptown performances typically rooted in tradition.
iHeartDanceNYC Co-Founders Melissa Gerstein and Kimberly Giannelli provided dancers with an opportunity to perform in front of a live audience for the first time in over a year, giving many hopes in continuing their careers after being forced to give up their apartments and others even considering leaving the stage entirely.
Their mission heralded an unexpected gem bringing audiences dance evolved, demystified, and stripped, resulting in a genuine atmosphere rid of pretension, which is rare to find in any uptown New York City arts venue. The dancers’ charisma radiated from their limbs, but show-stopping talent aside, iHeartDanceNYC stood out from standard outdoor gala-style performances by providing a thoughtful line-up and giving dancers a new voice of vulnerability as many of them took the mic post-performance.
American Ballet Theatre Studio Company former dancer Eli Gruska was eager to share his thoughts on personal and professional issues in regards to returning to the stage after performing an exhilarating duet alongside New York City Ballet corps de ballet member Olivia McKinnon choreographed by iHeartDanceNYC choreographer in residence David Fernandez. Beaming, he announced,
“You truly don’t know what you have until you lose it,”
which resonated with the audience and dancers alike, a few even wiping tears of joy from their cheeks.
In a last-minute addition to the bill added only 90 minutes before the top of the first show, Gruska joined New York City Ballet’s Gilbert Bolden III in a piece Bolden choreographed himself titled It Takes Two. This twist in the traditional tango was revolutionary in that not only were there two males partnering, but that Bolden took the feminine role in the partnering.
It is rare to witness this on stage, especially at Lincoln Center. When two males perform together, it is either a demonstration of powerful, typically masculine movements, or a parody of the male dancer executing feminine movements; however, Bolden’s choreography left the audience affected with the same emotional psychology, playfulness and romanticism as the other, traditional male and female duet performed by Ballet West and ABT Studio Company former dancer Graceanne Pierce and Slovak National Ballet former soloist Jonatan Lujan.