IN THE COMPANY OF FRIENDS: The Dancers and Creative
Continuing our string of hit panels, DO40’s Gower Champion event blew the roof off the St. Luke’s Theater, Monday, March 31st. The stars were literally aligned, and everyone who was anyone in the Gower firmament was there. When DO40 president John Sefakis asked those in the audience to stand if they had ever been in a Gower show during the curtain call, dozens stood up, half of them already in tears from what they had witnessed on stage. The “youngsters” met the mature dancers onstage and everyone won. Don Percassi discussed a Broadway show he was in and suddenly he realized the star he was supporting was 91 year old Iva Withers, another panelist seated across the stage from him. He ran over and hugged her – a realization that events that happened over 40 years could still bring people together. Marge Champion, from 1948’s Lend an Ear with Gower, to Karin Baker, Gower’s assistant, on his last show, 42nd Street – and a dozen more panelists in between represented all the great Gower shows of the Golden Age of Broadway – Bye Bye Birdie, Carnival, Hello, Dolly, Sugar, Rockabye Hamlet and some that were not so successful… but who cared! They all loved what they were doing and adored their director and choreographer. And the memories kept flowing.
The panels were divided into the “dancers” and the “creative talents” involved in Gower’s shows. Many of these dancers crossed over between the two categories, of course. And to moderate the event, who else but David Hartman. David Hartman? Get outta here!! David Hartman from Good Morning America and the Walking Tours series on Thirteen/WNET? Yep. Who knew he was in the original company of Hello, Dolly! As Rudolph the waiter! (this writer didn’t!). David graciously flew up with his wife, Mary from their home in North Carolina to support his dancer/friends, especially Nicole Barth, long time DO40 member and dancer in many Gower shows (Carnival, Hello, Dolly!, Sugar).
Then on to Panel 2, with Karin Baker (42nd Street), Nicole Barth (Carnival, Hello, Dolly! Sugar), Gene Bayliss (Make a Wish, Carnival, Bye Bye Birdie), Marge Champion (Lend an Ear, Make a Wish, Hello, Dolly!), Ed Kresley (Bye Bye Birdie, Hello, Dolly!), Bert Michaels (Sugar, Mack & Mabel) and Tony Stevens (Rockabye Hamlet). David Hartman ended the panel with his touching remarks from Gower’s memorial service in 1980. Not a dry eye in the house, as they say… And the finale, contrary to Ms. Channing’s wishes (it was NOT from Hello Dolly!) was 42nd Street – “Lullaby of Broadway,” recreated by Gower Dance Assistant, Karin Baker.
DO40 President John Sefakis, Marge Champion,
Ed Kresley and Nicole Barth
Intermission and the end of the show were like another event altogether! Dancers reunited with other dancers, Legends and leading Broadway show folk mixing with gypsies (Donald Saddler, June Havoc, Lonny Price, Harvey Evans). Special thanks to Ed Gaynes, who donated his theater for the evening, and everyone who donated their time and talent to this wonderful enterprise, especially Richard Skipper as Carol Channing, the great David Hartman, and the lovely and loquacious Marge Champion. As is always the case with Dancers Over 40 events, the “stars” are really the “dancers,” whom we salute time after time, and who share their history, their legacy and their lives with the rest of us so that their knowledge can educate the next generation of dancers. All of these panels are filmed and donated to the Jerome Robbins Dance Collection at the Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts.
DO40 is happy to link with other organizations to ensure every dancer has all the information they need to continue a happy, productive and creative life. Some organizations assist financially, some transition dancers to other occupations, some provide health benefits and options. Dancers Over 40 is here to guide them through all of that… but also to tend to their Souls. It was a joyous event, where everyone was so proud to be in their profession and so proud to still say, “Yes, I’M A DANCER.”
SEE MORE PHOTOS of
the GOWER CHAMPION
Arte Phillips Remembered by his fellow Dancers
Cheers and Tears, Dancing and Singing To celebrate the life of a friend
by John Sefakis
Dancer Arte Phillips was so vain, we couldn’t stand it. Well, we could, because we all loved him so. “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful!” became his standard mantra anytime Arte wanted to make someone smile (or when we asked him how many different blond streaks he had in his hair that week!). He began as a talented ballroom dancer, was featured – and won – on Star Search in the 80s, and took class for many years at Phil Black’s Dance Studio to hone his Broadway skills. Arte performed in Grand Hotel and Victor, Victoria on Broadway, as well as countless tours and industrials, and always gave back to the community when it came time for Gypsy of the Year, or Broadway Bares (where he choreographed AND graciously showed us that gorgeous body of his!). He was the Hustle King, the Salsa Champ and teacher and choreographer extraordinaire. He toured the country and the world, dancing his heart out.
Arte died in his sleep at home in Philadelphia on November 12th. He was planning to move back to New York City and buy a place either in his old neighborhood in Queens or Manhattan. He was 49 years old (see photo of Arte with fellow dancer Billy Marti at the Phil Black event, below right).
Arte performed for DO40 at the Phil Black 80th birthday party in June of 2008, with Stephanie Risser and Carolina Almont (see photo in costume, above left), and you can watch it on our youtube site, www.youtube.com/dancersover40. That number was reprised at his memorial service, again with Stephanie and Carolina along with Kristine Bendul.
As fate would have it, I bumped into Arte right before DO40’s Jack Cole event in October –in front of my apartment building in midtown. He was in the city looking for a place -- again. We talked for almost an hour, as I hadn’t seen him since the Phil Black event. He was bubbly and charming as usual. We dished about romance, and how he was aging (pretty damn well!). Matter of fact, he looked like a country/western star that day, with the light brown corduroy sport jacket and (of course) scarf and jeans. He never pulled the “beautiful” routine on me, maybe because I was there the day he climbed those stairs to take his first class at Phil Black’s, back in the early 80s. We hit it off immediately, and after taking, probably just two of my beginner classes, Phil grabbed him and put him in the advanced class. Arte was clever. He knew he could go right into Phil’s advanced class, but he wanted to learn Phil’s warm-up and across the floor with beginners before going into his class!
The Phil Black Gang at Arte’s Memorial : (l to r, back) Alan Onickel, Mary McCatty, Leslie Riddle, Anthony Bova, Billy Marti, (front) Phil Black’s sister, Mary and producer of the event, Nancy Murton
As for the memorial, it was SRO. I spoke for Phil Black who couldn’t attend (he is now in the Actors’ Fund Home in New Jersey), director/ choreographers Jerry Mitchell and Maria Torres (Maria helmed the event along with Nancy Murton) added their funny, loving Arte moments and Raymond del Barrio brought the house to laughter and tears with his spot-on imitation of Arte in Fierce Form. Dancers and Singers from Grand Hotel performed and friend Bill Ryall showed a clip of a dance duo parody where he played Arte (with hair…). Arte’s mom, Liz, and his sister Pam also spoke, and David Elder, Arte’s partner of many years, sang and danced his heart out for his friend. As I said, laughter and tears, in almost … equal amounts.
Carlos Sierra Lopez, David Elder and Kristine Bendul perform Adam and Eve and Steve
from Broadway Bares, Choreographed by Arte.
If you’d like to make a donation in Arte’s memory, his mom, Elizabeth Halbreich, has set up a non-profit organization to help dancers in need. Donations can be sent directly to her, payable to Arte Phillips Dance Inc., 7546 Pebbles Shores Terrace, Lake Worth, FL 33467, or donations are accepted at Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS in his name.