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.

What happens when dance and theater nerds join forces

This entire blog post goes under the heading “better late than never.” That’s because I’m finally getting around to writing about the Congress on Research in Dance (CORD) conference that I went to last November in Seattle. Yep, that’s right, over 7 months ago. But it’s all good, because I took copious notes. So here goes.

Straight to it: the conference was great. There were many informative presentations of quality research done by individuals in the academic sector. Since it was a joint conference of CORD and the American Society for Theatre Research (ASTR), we got to hear about topics relating to both fields – dance and theater – and also about points of intersection between them. To be honest, not all of them were interesting (to me) and sometimes the combination of monotone speakers, fluorescent lighting, and lack of sleep caused me to doze off from time to time. But most of the presentations were well-done and quite relevant, such as discussing documentation strategies for the performing arts and exploring identity in contemporary modern dance.

I also really appreciated the State of the Profession plenary – a panel of academics from mixed backgrounds and interests sharing their views about the present and future of their respective fields. It was great to hear what seasoned scholars considered to be the current issues as well as their opinions on how to move forward. One idea I found particularly interesting came from Praise Zenenga, professor at The University of Arizona, who expressed his desire to unlock the power of the human body, as he believes the “body is a site of interdisciplinary inquiry.” (Such a nerdy arts phrase, but I guess that’s why I like it.)

I was really glad that CORD took a page from the ASTR playbook and welcomed “working sessions” into the mix, (more…)

The Margie Gillis interview and my dream ending

If you haven’t seen the Margie Gillis Sun News interview, you may not want to. Because if you actually value the arts, it may be hard to sit through it and not want to punch someone’s face in (especially the interviewer). Posted on June 1st on the Canadian news website, the video shows a rather ferocious interview with contemporary dance artist Margie Gillis. And in the past few days, the video has spread like wildfire among New York City dance circles (perhaps even across the country), striking appropriate outrage in those who view it.

While I truly admire Margie Gillis for keeping her composure through the inteview and bringing up some good points, I feel that she could have had stronger comebacks and better arguments on the importance of dance and art. (Though, the people I know that I imagine providing such responses may have been kicked off the show before getting to them.) Convincing others to value art, especially under such antagonistic circumstances, is not an easy task. But we in dance need to be able to articulate why what we do is important and deserving of respect, appreciation, and support.

If you haven’t seen the video, click on the screen shot below to view it on the Sun News website. Then come back and read my dream ending, what I wish Gillis would have said to the interviewer in a final statement.

My dream response/final comment of Margie Gillis to interviewer Krista Erickson: (more…)

A great day for dance: The Dance/NYC Mid-Season Symposium

Photo by Christopher Duggan

There are not many things that I will willingly wake up at 7 AM on a Saturday for. But 2 weekends ago, February 26th, I did just that in order to attend Dance/NYC’s Mid-Season Symposium. Despite being forced to become a coffee-drinker for a day, I am thoroughly glad I took part in this splendid dance event.

Actually, the festivities started the night before with a kick-off party at the Rubin Museum hosted by the Dance/NYC Junior Committee. I’ve always enjoyed breaking the ice with colleagues before delving into professional matters; starting with informal mingling tends to make the later structured exchanges more meaningful and fruitful. And the Junior Committee certainly knew how to start things off right. Catching up with acquaintances and meeting new friends in the field, surrounded by the swanky ambiance of the Chelsea hotspot, was a great way to get everyone engaged and excited for the day ahead. (more…)

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, (more…)