The World Onstage
Behind the Mask
By Libby Ryan
On the stage of the Music Box Theatre, two girls giddily took their picture with Alan Bersten and giggled as they thanked him for signing the T-shirts they held, emblazoned with pictures from one of his So You Think You Can Dance performances.
He modestly thanked them for coming to see the show and smiled. This was not his first fan interaction of this level; he had similar experiences during his time on SYTYCD.
“It’s fun,” Alan told me when I asked how it felt to have girls asking him to sign their shirts. “But maybe a bit much.”
The twenty-year-old dancer recently returned to the Twin Cities after joining the cast of Burn the Floor shortly after the SYTYCD tour came to a close. He learned the choreography for the event of the day, Behind the Mask, two days prior to the show.
Alan said posing for photos and talking with fans was always an exciting way to see that they appreciated his dancing, even if it was a little overenthusiastic. He explained, “I’m just a person, no different than anyone else.”
But from my seat in the audience of the theater, watching Behind the Mask, it was obvious that the dancers onstage were more than simply people; they were artists whose years of dedication and training made for an amazing show.
Behind the Mask began with performances from the most impressive students from Gene and Elena Bersten’s studio, Dance with Us America, including a ladies’ formation team Latin medley, a playful cha cha trio, and a jive to Pharrell’s “Happy.”
After a brief intermission, the show resumed with a bang. A circus-themed number, complete with masks passed from dancer to dancer, opened the door to countless memorable moments danced by the six stars of the show.
Gene and Elena performed an emotional rumba, a picture-perfect melodrama. Professional Latin competitors Vasilii Platonov and Irina Panfilova danced a theatrical paso doble, demonstrating their enormously precise technique, each step filled with intensity. Alan, Vasilii, and Gene sambaed shirtless, smirking as they weaved through the aisles of the audience. Not to be outdone, the ladies, joined by Brooke Geyen, struck dramatic poses in flashy, gold-sequined dresses for a flirtatious piece to Christina Aguilera’s “Burlesque.”
The choreography of each number blended seamlessly from song to song, with barely time to breathe before another story of rage, passion, or love unfolded on the stage.
The stamina of all the dancers, especially Gene and Vasilii, who danced multiple numbers with their students during the showcase portion of the performance, was incredible. Never was there a moment where the energy exuded from each dancer was less than dazzling.
After the show, Gene said, “When it’s what you do for a living, you have no other choice.” He explained that, as a professional dancer, the performance smiles and finishing touches are just part of the job, like the choreographed steps. But even now that the show had ended, his eyes still glinted with the same charm he channeled onstage.
“How does a runner keep running a marathon?” he asked me and then grinned. “It’s the same thing for us.”
But a marathon runner does not have to convince the spectators that running is easy, whereas the Behind the Mask performers danced with what appeared to be effortless grace. The fire in Irina’s eyes never dwindled, and Elena radiated confidence in every movement.
Aside from the skillful execution, there was also something incredibly special hidden in the more subtle moments of the show: a loving look between Gene and Elena; a brotherly spar for the spotlight, ending with Gene stealing a prop from Alan; the elated embrace between Vasilii and Irina after a beautifully danced Viennese waltz; an encouraging nod to Brooke from Elena during their quick-paced and difficult duet; Gene breaking character during a dramatic paso doble and failing to hold back a smile when the crowd wildly applauded for Alan.
The clever choreography of the show highlighted these interactions, allowing the dancers to play off each other and adding depth to the already fascinating stories of each song. There was an entire world up on the stage, created out of the magnetic personalities of the dancers performing.
So perhaps the shirt signing and posed photos were slightly excessive, but I cannot blame those two girls for wanting a little piece of these dancers’ world for their own.