The Radio City Rockettes are a household name, well known for their flawless formations and precise, unison dancing. Former Rockette Mary “Six” Rupert works to preserve the intricate, classic Rockette tap and kickline form. Tonight at Pace University’s Schimmel Theater, she will host Forever Linked, a show she directed and choreographed to honor this tradition. This is the sixth annual show of its kind, featuring the Legacy 36 Dancers, other former Rockettes and dancers, for a combined cast of over thirty performers.
Rupert danced as a Rockette for thirteen years and came to master and greatly appreciate the classic Rockette style. She was dance captain of the Radio City 60th Anniversary Show national tour, and assisted Joe Layton in directing and choreographing the Ann Margret show at Radio City and on tour, and performed in several Broadway musicals before becoming a professor of tap and jazz at Wagner College. Choreographing in this tap-and-kickline style is her way of preserving precision dancing, at a time when even the Rockettes have moved away from it. “There’s nothing wrong with that,” Rupert says of the Rockette’s evolution of style, “but it is [now] something different.”
So what is precision dancing then?
According to Rupert, true precision dance is about specificity, in both creating choreography and communicating it to dancers. “Nothing can be open to interpretation,” she said. “The goal is for the group is to be successful, and that happens when everyone is an equal part of the group.”
There are many terms and concepts specific to precision dance that help create this unified feeling and look, particular ways to smoothly change to different formation wherein no dancer sticks out apart from the others. In this way, many dancers become one. The choreography in Forever Linked strives for this exacting effect.
In one of the numbers, the twelve Legacy 36 Dancers enter in one line, facing stage left, hands on the dancer in front of them. Dancers at the back begin to move into a new formation of three separate horizontal lines across the stage, with other dancers following. They then “cover off”: the dancers on one side of the line moving in an arc until the line is vertical, the dancer now in front hiding the dancers behind her. Sequences performed in canon ultimately bring all dancers together into one horizontal line again.
They dance to move the line to the back of the stage, and then “add on”: dancers individually moving into a new formation until they’re all in a new line downstage. They perform a kickline sequence and then “add on” again into a “circle line” — an even and symmetrical circle, with them facing out — to dance until the lights go out and the piece is finished.
While Forever Linked is a paean to the precision dance tradition that Rupert has passed on, the show will also illuminate the origins of precision dance. Sandra Bryant, a descendant of one of the Tiller Girls, the first true precision dance group of the late 1800’s, will be dancing in the show. Bryant will also speak about that tradition and lineage, and show images of her great-aunt dancing with the troupe.
Forever Linked will thus be a multi-media illustration honoring of this classic form. Dance forms don’t magically live on; their value must be recognized, and then the work of preservation begins. That work includes much of what will happen tonight: sharing historical context and acknowledging key individuals, alongside a performance of the work in its truest form. As we dance onward, we can partly attribute the richness of dance as we know it to such efforts.
June 9th, 6 p.m.
Pace University’s Schimmel Theater
Click Here for tickets.