The Return of the Bessies: Reaching the Apollo and beyond

The 2011 Bessie Awards; Photo by Christopher Duggan

Before the throngs of crazy people in costumes descended on downtown Manhattan yesterday for Halloween, and before the strange October snow storm that descended on the city this past weekend, there came the Bessies, the New York Dance and Performance Awards, which descended upon us last week.

Taking up (a hopefully permanent) residence at the famous Apollo Theater in Harlem, the Bessies brought together the best and brightest of the New York dance community last night.

Highlights of the evening

  • The Apollo: seriously one of the main draws for attending; amazing just to be inside this historical space
  • Dance Legends: being in the same room with and giving standing ovations to amazing people in the field, namely post-modern marvel Trisha Brown and renowned ballet master Frederic Franklin (also the sweetest 97-year-old man ever)
  • Bebe Neuwirth: though mostly scripted, still a funny and delightful guest host, complete with a fabulously sparkly ensemble
  • Familiar faces: reconnecting with friends and colleagues in the field

Host Bebe Neuwirth; Photo by Christopher Duggan

Trisha Brown, Bebe Neuwirth, and the Apollo – can it really get any better than that? Why yes it can. Last year I talked about the revamping of the Bessie awards, under the new umbrella organization of Dance/NYC and the new leadership of Lucy Sexton. And it seems in just one year there have been significant changes in the event, mostly, I believe, for the better.

The biggest difference and improvement is the expanded scope covered by the awards. Because of a completely new set of categories and multiple nominating committees, it seems the awards are much closer to fully representing the breadth of dance in New York City. From recognizing Alexei Ratmansky’s work with American Ballet Theatre for “Outstanding Production of a work performed in a larger capacity venue,” to “downtown” dance artist Beth Gill for “Outstanding Emerging Choreographer,” and Violeta Galagarza for “Service to the Field” for her work with Spanish Harlem’s Keep Rising to the Top dance company, it was great to see an embrace of dance diversity.

Honoree Trisha Brown; Photo by Christopher Duggan

Even beyond the actual awards, the variety of people gathered and the presenters themselves really showed a new desire to represent all aspects of New York’s rich dance scene – ballet, hip hop, uptown, downtown, straight up dance, not quite dance, and everything in-between. There is still more work to be done, especially as mentioned a need to reach more into the borough communities of the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn. But it seems we are at least headed in the right direction.

Along with these major highlights and developments, last Monday was also just a nice evening of gathering together as a community. For me personally, it was fulfilling to note that I knew more people in the crowd this year than I did at last year’s event. And I think that’s really what it’s all about: coming together with people you know and people you want to know, putting aside the daily struggles of supporting this crazy art form, and donning evening attire to properly celebrate the wondrous gift of dance.

A grand thank you to those that made the Bessies possible and are working passionately to sustain its vibrancy in the future: Dance/NYC, Lucy Sexton, Lane Harwell, Lacey Althouse, the Junior Committee, and the various Bessie committees.

For the full list of honorees, check out the Dance/NYC posting. For more coverage of the evening, read the New York Times article, InfiniteBody post, and Junior Committee blog post. For more from the wonderful photographer, check out Christopher Duggan’s website.

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