Hail and farewell. Shut Up & Dance, Philadelphia Ballet’s annual performance to benefit MANNA, is celebrating its 30th anniversary on Saturday.
And its last — at least in the current format.
The event, which is run by the dancers of Philadelphia Ballet, was first held in 1992 as a response to the AIDS crisis. AIDS hit the ballet world hard, and the dancers felt moved to do something. After hours of discussion, they decided they needed to stop talking about it and do what they do best: Shut up and dance.
Dancers would choreograph pieces for their colleagues as well as learn to manage an event, which would be presented in a single performance. The evening would end poignantly with one dancer performing Mikhail Fokine’s The Dying Swan. (Corps de ballet member Marjorie Feiring will dance this year’s Dying Swan, to live music played on piano by Martha Koeneman and cello by Jennie Lorenzo, both with the Philadelphia Ballet Orchestra.)
The dancers chose to benefit MANNA (Metropolitan Area Neighborhood Nutrition Alliance), which was founded two years earlier in Philadelphia, because it, too, was designed to help AIDS patients.
Thirty years later, there are many more treatments for HIV and AIDS, so MANNA has grown to feed people with many chronic diseases, although HIV and AIDS continues to be one of their top concerns.
Shut Up & Dance has provided MANNA with $2 million over the years, said Sue Daugherty, MANNA’s CEO. It has also offered a different sort of creative outlet to the dancers.
Matthew Neenan, cofounder of BalletX who creates dance works for companies across the United States, credits Shut Up & Dance with lighting the spark on his choreographic career. He will be making a new piece for this year’s performance as well.
Lack of interest is not the issue here. It’s cost.
“It’s been such a tremendous honor to have it for 30 years,” Daugherty said. “It really has been a decision that we’ve been discussing with the dancers for few years. Quite honestly, [with] a one-night-only performance, the financial model is becoming more and more difficult to support.”
The Forrest Theatre, where Shut Up & Dance is held, is very costly, Daugherty said. “We actually have looked at other theaters, and quite honestly, the expense was not any better. We’ve tried many, many angles throughout the years to try to see if there’s a way we could get an in-kind or donation, ... and we just have not had success in that area.
“We certainly make money,” Daugherty added. “I don’t want anybody to think that money doesn’t benefit. But just as the landscape has changed, the current structure just doesn’t support the event as it is.”
That said, MANNA and Philadelphia Ballet are committed to continuing to work together. They’re just not sure what this will look like in the future. Discussions are planned for over the summer for a future collaboration.
“Whatever this turns into going forward, I want to be a part of it in a major way,” said Jacqueline Callahan, a demi-soloist with the ballet and Shut Up & Dance’s producing director. “It’s just so inspiring to see the dancers transforming in different creative ways.”
This year’s performance, scheduled for Saturday, will be even more of a celebration than usual, Callahan said, since it will be the anniversary, the first in-person benefit after two years virtual, and the final show.
Along with Neenan, those choreographing include Philadelphia Ballet demi-soloist Pau Pujol, soloist Peter Weil, an former company member Eric Trope. Philadelphia Ballet rehearsal director Charles Askegard is working on a piece. University of the Arts, BalletX, and Brian Sanders JUNK will also be performing, as well as Almanac Dance Circus Theatre.
Cabaret performer and Bearded Ladies founder John Jarboe will be the host.
“We want to try to get everyone involved in any way possible,” Callahan said. “I don’t know what the art scene was like 30 years ago, but it seems like it’s such a great way to bring so many artists together to celebrate the art scene in Philadelphia.”
With so much on the line, the emotions are always high in the theater during Shut Up & Dance, she added.
“Some of the show is crazy. You’re laughing, some pieces are just, like, insane. And then when the Dying Swan comes out, and it’s to live music, it’s just such a special moment. The theater just goes silent, and everyone has chills. It’s a really beautiful moment.”
It may be even more emotional this year.
“I just literally had like tears like streaming down my face,” Daugherty said, after watching a “video that to honor the 30-year legacy” of Shut Up & Dance.
But this is not the end, she added. “I hope that there’s a story for another 30 years that comes from conversations we’ll be having this summer.”
“Shut Up & Dance”
8 p.m. Saturday. Forrest Theatre. $50-$3,000. mannapa.org/event/shut-up-dance-2022