Evolution Dance’s Independence Day celebration Saturday brought bittersweet memories for dancer Mary Ann Dailey and fighting words from World War II veteran Bob Emick.
When asked if he was happy to enjoy the “Flags, Freedom and Fireworks” show at Savannah Center, Emick, 94, gave a classic American reply: “hell yeah.” And if that wasn’t enough, this real life Yankee Doodle Dandy added one more thing: “I’m going to be 95 next week.”
Happy birthday Mr. Emick, and happy birthday Uncle Sam.
For Mary Ann Dailey, the joy of the holiday was mixed with love, gratitude and longing for her late husband, Joseph C. Dailey. He served two tours of Vietnam with the Army and died five years ago from Agent Orange.
“I miss him and I dedicated my performance tonight to him,” Dailey said. “Tonight, we saluted my husband and all Vietnam veterans. That’s important to me and everyone else.”
The night kicked off in Patriotic style when Larry Rivellese – fresh off his appearance on NBC-TV with Steve Harvey – brought the crowd to its feet with a stirring version of the National Anthem.
“It’s an honor for me to sing that song,” Rivellese said.
A number of the performances in the music and dancing extravaganza were dedicated to Vietnam veterans. They included: “A Soldier’s Letter,” read to parents played by Sue Schuler and Jack Filkins. “The Ballad of the Green Berets,” by Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler, and danced to by Rose Bianchini, Dolores Pittaro and Rosie Theiss.
Also Billy Joel’s “Goodnight Saigon,” featuring Richard Blanchard, Chip Fuller, Phip Fuller, Frank Olive and Carter Poust.
Also, a table with an empty chair was in front of center stage, to honor those Missing in Action, held prisoner, or killed serving America.
There was also a tribute to women veterans with the song “Remembering the Hero,” featuring Dailey along with dancers Kathy Chesley-Williams, Jacqie Davis, Paige Fleming, Mollie McCarthy, Leslie Rosenberg, Sue Schuler, Yuri Sohn, Diane Vargas and Dianne Zugnoni.
“I’ve been dancing a long time but this was my first performance for Evolution Dance and that made it more special,” said Dailey, a New Jersey native who moved to The Villages with her husband 10 years ago.
The entire Evolution Dance production was filled with emotion, joy, sadness and drama. “That’s the way we wanted it because that’s what makes an entertaining show,” Diane Vargas, artistic director of Evolution Dance along with Helene Yelverton.
“The Fourth of July is about celebration, but it’s also about remembering the men and women who have served this country in the Armed Forces,” Vargas said. “The biggest thrill for us, is when the military veterans in the audience enjoy what we do. That’s what it’s all about.”
This show percolated with energy, talent and appreciation for veterans.
It began in style with some rousing World War II numbers. The whole company was jumping and jiving to such 1940s’ classics as “Sing Sing Sing,” “In the Mood” “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and “Crazy Feet” — a delightful tap number by Helene Yelverton, with some help from Frank Olive and Carter Poust.
Poust was in fine, vocal form, saluting the vets in the audience while singing “This is Our Country.” The tapping was frenetic on “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” with Violet Ray joined by Dailey, Chesley-Williams, McCarthy, Pittaro and Theiss.
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Yuri Sohn, along with Vargas and the Fuller twins mixed ballet and contemporary dance moves on “Strike Up the Band.” The whole cast took to chairs while dancing, singing and slapping their knees on a red-white-and blue “Our Favorite Son” from “…Follies.”
The show closed with a fitting, explosive “Stars and Stripes Finale.”
“This was a great night,” Vargas said afterwards. “We started doing this last year and we hope to make it a tradition and do it every year. It means a lot of all of us.”
Just like the Fourth of July.