The struggles and triumphs of ballet dancer and choreographer Valery Panov (born Shulman)—a Russian Jew who suffered anti-Semitism in his homeland and persecution by the KGB during the Cold War, later emigrated to freedom in Israel in 1974, and continues to inspire new generations of students as artistic director of Panov Ballet Theatre in the city of Ashdod–is the subject of TO DANCE – THE MUSICAL. The world-premiere production by Kyra Robinov (book and lyrics) and Tibor Zonai (music) recounts events from the real-life story as told by Panov in his eponymous autobiography of 1978, from which it which it was adapted.
Directed and choreographed by Donald Garverick, the play is told through dialogue, songs, and, of course, dance, beginning with Valery’s rambunctious childhood in ballet school and early exposure to the hatred and bigotry of his comrades. From his time as an internationally renowned member and audience favorite of Leningrad’s Kirov Ballet, through his political status as a dissident, removal from the ballet troupe, and two-year imprisonment in the Communist USSR, to the new freedom he and his second wife Galina (also a star dancer with the Kirov) were about to enjoy in Israel, Panov’s frustrations, confidence, and driving need to dance come through in Jesse Carrey’s charming portrayal. Kathryn Morgan (now returned to the stage after a debilitating illness forced her to leave the New York City Ballet in 2013) dazzles Fringe-goers in a series of dance sequences as Galina and with Carrey.
Set and costumes by Brian Dudkiewicz are minimal but effective in evoking the time and locales, despite some difficulties with squeaky freestanding door frames, errant clips, and movable wooden bars. In a play that requires a variety of talents, the cast members are not all equally adept at singing, acting, and dancing, and some of the harmonies were off and the movements out of synch. And though the script and songs are often too simple and the well-known political agendas and propaganda too obvious, fans of Panov and the ballet, and aficionados of recent (and current) history will appreciate the production. [Theatre at the 14th Street Y, 344 E. 14th Street, New York, NY] August 18-30, 2015; todancethemusical.com.
As with all FringeNYC shows, tickets are $18, and are available through the website at FringeNYC.org. Keep in mind that there is no late seating for the Fringe, so be advised to arrive at the venue ahead of time.