The Bessies are back and stronger than ever!

Why did I get home so late on a Monday night, with my knees aching from dancing and my calves burning from an evening in 3-inch heels? Because I went to The Bessies, of course! Back after a year hiatus (not from planning and organizing, but from the actual ceremony), the New York Dance and Performance Awards, aka The Bessies, sprang forth in full splendor Monday night. The show itself was a lovely tribute to New York dance and the efforts of choreographers, dancers, and their creative teams. As Miguel Gutierrez noted in his acceptance speech, it’s wonderful that the dance community has committed to taking time out of our busy schedules to look back and celebrate the extraordinary artistic works that have been created.

As par for dance, the ceremony started “promptly” at 8:12. During opening remarks from Lane Harwell, Director of Dance/NYC, and the show’s producer, Lucy Sexton, the crowd cheered excitedly for The Bessies being back in business. Though somewhat of an outsider to the world of dance, Isaac Mizrahi played a delightful host, with countless “fabulous”-es and humorous quips to spice up his introductions. Because of the skipped year, awards went out to choreographers and performers from the last 2 years of shows. A total of 19 awards were presented (12 works & 7 dancers or groups of dancers) for a varied array of winners, including newcomers like Kyle Abraham and not-so-new-comers like Yvonne Meier. See the Dance/NYC post for a full list of winners.) Before the final award, Lucy took over the mic, boisterously prodding audience members to stand and pledge donations to The Bessies – eventually getting most of the audience on their feet for at least $10 pledges. The ceremony ended with a standing ovation for the all-star ensemble of Paradigm, recipients of the final award of the night.

Yet that was just the formal part of the evening. Then came the after-party (the true cause of my late night and sore knees). Along with about a quarter of the attendees, I ventured to Columbus 72, a nightclub reserved especially for the occasion. After forcing an audience of dancers to sit still for 2 hours of awards, it only seemed fitting that the party included a DJ and dance floor so that everyone could finally get moving and let loose. And let loose we did. Imagine a whole mass of crazy dance people, including executive directors, Bessie winners, international artists, and even Lucy Sexton herself, all bouncing around to the likes of Katy Perry and Jay-Z. I certainly can’t think of a much better way to spend a Monday night.

Perhaps even more exciting than all the awards and the dancing, though, was simply the success and strength of The Bessies in its revival. It was evident that a lot of discussion and planning occurred over the past year to both set a solid foundation and make substantial improvements. One major change made was that Dance/NYC became the main presenter of the ceremony, with support from the original presenting organizations of Dance Theater Workshop, Danspace Project, and The Joyce. Upon speaking with representatives from these parties, it seems to be an enlightened shift, allowing the original 3 presenters to focus more on their own programming and handing over more responsibility to the neutral, wide-reaching organization of Dance/NYC. Another seemingly positive change was to create a Bessie Steering Committee, a group of creative minds focusing on the future development of the awards.

And supposedly they’re only going to get better. During the ceremony, Lucy informed the audience about more changes already underway for next year. In an effort to widen the scope of works being honored, they are going to create specific categories for awards, such as ones for emerging choreographers and others for lifetime achievement in dance. (Personally I feel this might exclude significant works from being recognized – how many “best” emerging choreographers would they choose from the dozens that exist? But hopefully the categories will be carefully chosen so that more artists are highlighted instead of less.) They’re also planning to triple the size of the selection committee, hoping it will also lead to a wider range of recipients, since more people can see more shows and thus gain a broader view of all the dance happening in the city. Lastly, Dance/NYC is hoping to raise enough funds for next year’s ceremony to attach monetary gifts and residencies to some of the awards. Of course we’ll have to wait until next year to see how these proposed changes pan out. I’m mostly optimistic, though, that the various minds involved in the brainstorming and planning of the show will work collaboratively to come up with the best possible program. Furthermore, Lucy Sexton assured us that The Bessies are an ever-morphing entity that will continue to develop and change as necessary in order to best celebrate and serve the unique dance community of New York. For this, they have my full support.

Certainly major kudos goes to the Bessie Selection Committee, the Bessie Steering Committee, the staffs of Dance/NYC, DTW, Danspace, and The Joyce, and the many other individuals responsible for creating such a wonderful evening of dance. I thoroughly enjoyed being in the same room as so many amazing artists and feeling like the packed house of Symphony Space was one big family bonded by our love for dance. Thank goodness The Bessies are back and we are able to once again come together to share in the joy of this art form and of this great city.

*For pictures from the event, check out the photographer’s Facebook album.

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  1. The return of the Bessies, reaching the Apollo and beyond « The Hidden Language of the Soul

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