October 25, 2014

Two former 'Broadway gypsies' will help judge Dancing with the RSO

Denise Pence and Steven Boockvor, at home in Ridgefield. —Ken Kast

Denise Pence and Steven Boockvor, at home in Ridgefield. —Ken KastDenise Pence and Steven Boockvor, at home in Ridgefield. —Ken Kast

Steven Boockvor and Denise Pence Boockvor, well-known Broadway dancers and actors, are most famous for the two roles they didn’t play. They never performed as “Al” and “Kristine” in the hit Broadway musical, A Chorus Line. Yet they were the inspiration for those central characters. “Al” and “Kristine” were based on Steve and Denise, young married dancers with the same goal: to build show-business careers in New York City in the 1970’s. 

(Mr. Boockvor did later do a brief stint in A Chorus Line as the formidable director, Zach.)

“Audiences went away loving Al and Kristine more than any other characters,” Mr. Boockvor said in a recent interview. No other roles in A Chorus Line call for “such a strong relationship between two characters,” he said. 

Kristine, like Denise Pence, had left El Paso to pursue her dancing dream in New York. Abashed and nervous, she had a “brain-freeze” problem: “If I was in the presence of someone with great power, I couldn’t keep a train of thought.”

Al, like her husband Steve, helpfully finished her sentences for her. Neither man minced words. “We both came from the Bronx and we took no crap from anybody!” Mr. Boockvor said. 

Steven Boockvor starred for a year and a half as Zach the director of A Chorus Line; in 1978, he was nominated for a Tony Award for best supporting actor, in Working, but lost to Kevin Kline.Steven Boockvor starred for a year and a half as Zach the director of A Chorus Line; in 1978, he was nominated for a Tony Award for best supporting actor, in Working, but lost to Kevin Kline.

From the time A Chorus Line opened in 1975, audiences savored the story about competing dancers auditioning for parts in a Broadway show. They also appreciated its deeper vision — the revelation of the dancers’ hopes and dreams while they follow a ruthless career path. The musical ran for nearly 15 years — one of the longest-running Broadway shows of all time. 

Steve and Denise Boockvor will again be central to — though not competitors in — a dance competition on Saturday, March 2, at the Salem Golf Club in North Salem, N.Y. They will be judges at “Dancing with the RSO,” a gala fund-raiser featuring seven dancing couples who will compete to benefit the Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra. Each couple includes a “star” (a prominent Ridgefielder) and a “pro” (a professional dancer from an area studio who donates his/her time to coach the star). The couples’ goal is to present a knock-’em-dead tango, cha-cha or other ballroom routine that will impress the judges and entertain the 250-or-so guests.

The gala dancers will vie for two top prizes. One prize goes to the couple raising the most money for the orchestra. The other prize recognizes dancing expertise and will be awarded by the Boockvor team along with Victoria Mallory, also a dancer and musical theater star. Ms. Mallory has many Broadway credits, including the role of Maria in a revival of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story. She also played the character Leslie Brooks, a concert pianist, on the soap opera, “The Young and the Restless.”

The local “Dancing with the RSO” celebrities react in different ways to performing in front of a large audience that includes judges who were outstanding professional dancers. 

Steven Goldstone said he feels no fear even though “I have no dancing ability. My mind is willing, but my feet are just not up to the task.” (Steve and Liz Goldstone, along with Ridgefielders John and Elaine Couri, are the builders of Founders Hall.) Mr. Goldstone, who will dance with Fred Astaire instructor Mira Cherkezova, and Mrs. Goldstone, whose partner is Morten Schnedler-Jensen of Fred Astaire, will swing dance as a foursome to “In the Mood.” Mr. Goldstone is confident because “my teammates are fantastic. If I can manage to stay out of their way, Liz, Mira and Morten should be great!” 

By contrast, Dr. Robert Bonwetsch, a neurologist who specializes in epilepsy, frets about his tango with Carrie Pin of MacDonald-Pin Dancers. Dr. Bonwetsch imagines that “I will forget the choreography and end up constantly stepping on Carrie’s feet, or even worse, dropping her!” But he is willing to suppress his doubts and take time from his busy schedule to support the RSO. Why?

As a dancer, Denise Pence appeared on Broadway in Pippin and in the film version of Jesus Christ Superstar, but she's also known for her eight years as Nurse Katie Parker on The Guiding Light.As a dancer, Denise Pence appeared on Broadway in Pippin and in the film version of Jesus Christ Superstar, but she’s also known for her eight years as Nurse Katie Parker on The Guiding Light.“I think it’s fabulous for a small town like Ridgefield to have their own symphony orchestra. I have three children, and the ability to expose them to classical music, such as the children’s program at the RSO, is invaluable.”

As judges, the Boockvors and Ms. Mallory have no intention of being harsh. They are interested in the dancers’ spirits, not their steps.   

“Whatever dance they’re doing, it’s the joy I see, not the technical perfection. I like it when non-dancers give it their all,” Denise Boockvor said. 

Steve Boockvor looks for the tale the dancers tell rather than the techniques they use to tell it. “They take a point of view and tell a story, which is basically what choreography is,” he said.  

He points out that the gala judges are expected to add to the fun, not detract from it. Between the dance acts, the Boockvors and Ms. Mallory will offer witty and insightful commentary to entertain the audience. Some of Mr. Boockvor’s remarks might even be “risqué,” but he says he can’t help it: “I lean that way in life!”

During their careers, the Boockvors garnered many laurels. But they refuse to rest on them. Steve Boockvor has formed his own company, History Alive! He directs and produces 45-minute theatrical pieces, designed for fourth grade and up, in which an actor brings a historical figure from American history to life.

Denise Boockvor has lately been wearing the pin-striped suit of a producer. She is lining up venues (Lincoln Center, the Museum of Modern Art), enlisting stars (Carol Burnett, Blythe Danner), and finding money (the hardest part) to celebrate the centennial of the Rehearsal Club, a residential establishment in New York that, beginning in 1913, offered places to stay for young women without much money who aspired for careers in show business. 

And these days, “Kristine” expresses herself verbally quite well. There’s no need for “Al” to finish her sentences. 

  (To find out more about “Dancing with the RSO,” visit www.ridgefieldsymphony.org.)