The National Dance Institute’s 43rd Annual Gala began with movement.
Marched in from the sides of the Ziegfield ballroom, children from the NDI Celebration Team took the stage on Monday for an exuberant rendition of “The Drum Speaks.” Beginning with a single drummer commanding the stage, the choreography crecendoed into an undulating wave of red, blue, orange, purple, yellow, pink and green as dancers, clad in colorful T-shirts joined, the joyful spectacle.
More than 400 guests packed the space of the former iconic Ziegfeld Theater for a night of performances, awards and fundraising. As the NDI’s largest benefit, the gala brings in $1.5 million annually to help support the organization’s arts education programming. This year, the gala centered on the NDI’s current curriculum in its New York City public schools, “Voices of Change,” and honored Daymond John and Christopher Schlank with special awards.
NDI founder and former New York City Ballet principal dancer Jacques d’Amboise was presented with the LaDuca Lifetime Achievement Award. During his acceptance speech, d’Amboise posed what he described as a question he always asks himself: What came first — music or dance?
“Well, try to clap. You have to move! It’s movement that generates sound. I think dance proceeds music,” answered d’Amboise, charmingly, to his own question, generating a riotous round of applause from the room of donors, parents, supporters and dancers. “However, they’re wedded together. They go together because they both transform the person that participates.”
Following his speech, d’Amboise sat on stage while Leigh-Ann Esty and Andrei Chagas performed choreographer Justin Peck’s interpretation of the “Dream Ballet” pas de deux from “Carousel” — a role that d’Amboise danced with acclaim in the 1956 film version.
Throughout the evening, speakers referenced d’Amboise’s dedication to providing opportunity through dance and his unique ability to democratize the art form for all children, including Schlank, who was among one of the first children to be taught by d’Amboise as part of the program.
Demonstrating the organization’s commitment to their mission to “engage children and motivate them toward excellence” through the arts, the festivities featured a performance by the NDI DREAM Project (Dancers Realize Excellence through Arts and Movement), an initiative launched by NDI to provide a platform for children with disabilities to dance.
The evening also included a rousing live auction and a screening of the music video “Enough!“, introduced by Robbie Fairchild. The short dance film, which features NDI dancers and tackles the topic of gun violence head-on, proved to be an emotional highlight of the evening and a direct example of the “Voices of Change” theme set forth at the beginning of the night.
“When there are no more words to speak about something, you sing. And when there are no more songs to sing, you dance,” said Fairchild. “Dancers have the unique ability to convey certain emotions that you can’t put into words. These dancers have the ability to be the loudest voice for change.”
Top Image: Students of the National Dance Institute perform at 43rd Annual Gala. Photo: Noam Galai/Getty Images.