Few of the many students who attend college on football or basketball scholarships ever land gigs in the NFL or NBA. Few students who attend college on scholarships while majoring in French or history or sociology ever become French citizens, historians, or sociologists. Few students who attend college on scholarships to study literature ever become professional readers or writers.
But something important happens to these students over the course of four years while they participate in and study things which they love. They are also strong-armed by the educational institutions into studying a variety of core subjects in which they may have little interest but which enhance their abilities to understand and affect the world in which they live. Eyes widen. Perceptions deepen. Focus lengthens.
Last evening the New York City Dance Alliance Foundation, which is primarily a scholarship-funding organization founded and directed by the well-known jazz teacher and choreographer Joe Lanteri, presented a gala evening of performances and awards at NYU's Skirball Center. The draw for Haglund to attend was the announcement that some of his favorite professional dancers would perform and that the evening would honor Mikhail Baryshnikov, who seems still too young with too much to do to already be racking up lifetime achievement awards such as the Ambassador for the Arts Award bestowed on him last night by the NYCDAF. While that was the draw for Haglund to attend, what impressed him the most last night was hearing about the huge financial impact that the NYCDAF is making on kids who have embraced an art form which can now be leveraged to acquire something very important but very expensive.
NYCDAF has lined up college partners who assess the hopefuls and grant life-changing financial scholarships. This year's college partners include Point Park, Mercyhurst, Marymount Manhattan among other schools, all of which have nationally recognized theater or dance programs. NYCDAF hopes that the 2012 scholarship total will exceed the 2011 record awards total of $2.8 million. Additionally, last night a number of awards of $5,000 and $10,000 each were bestowed upon college bound dancers to help defray tuition at the colleges of their choice. A gift of $10,000 was bestowed upon the Baryshnikov Arts Center as well. As Baryshnikov noted in his acceptance speech for the Ambassador for the Arts Award, some of the students may go on to find success as professional performers but many will not. The latter will help develop the audience for dance, the philanthropy for dance, the administration for dance, and some will become the "gentle critics" of dance.
A number of guest speakers spoke of Baryshnikov's influence on their lives and their art. Julie Kent, who seems to be turning into a listenable speaker, noted with a tinge of sadness that she is the sole remaining dancer in ABT who was hired and developed by Baryshnikov. She is the last of his era in that company today but still stands head and shoulders above all the other artists who have been imported to try to pump up the company's classical reputation but who have mostly tainted it. It was Baryshnikov who invested his time in developing Julie Kent, Susan Jaffe, Wes Chapman, Robert Hill, Amanda McKerrow, John Gardner, Cheryl Yeager, and Cynthia Harvey because he was committed to the organic and sustainable development of ABT. He also motivated Leslie Browne, who was a disengaged teenager in an elite ballet family, to become one of ABT's most respected ballerinas. She spoke last evening of the transformative experience of seeing Baryshnikov perform with Natalia Makarova in Giselle.
The dancing part of the evening was a mix of styles and levels of achievement. Ballet Next opened the program with an excerpt from Margo Sappington's Entwined. Ballet Hispanico performed Club Havana. Complexions offered two excerpts from its repertory. Scholarship recipents performed as did a student group from a local school. ABT's Sarah Lane and Sascha Radetsky performed the PdD from Don Quixote. NYCB's Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild performed the PdD from Wheeldon's Mercurial Manoeuvres.
Roberta Flack, who was last year's Ambassador for the Arts Award recipient, spoke eloquently. Liza Minnella made the formal presentation to Baryshnikov which was augmented by film clips of them dancing together in the PBS broadcast Baryshnikov on Broadway.