And the Bessie goes to…(a review)

Photo by Christopher Duggan/Nel Shelby Productions

When next we see the mostly annual New York Dance and Performance Awards, they will have gone through a significant overhaul.  Thank goodness.  The process was a bastion of a former, non-transparent age.  When the goals, the funding, and pretty much everything else about what are known as The Bessies had become so unclear as to prevent them from moving forward and meaning anything, the committee dispersed, and the awards took a hiatus.

Back last night, in a special presentation covering the last two years, before the awards go through a complete revamping, there were already many welcome signs of change, with many more promised.  Organizer Lucy Sexton made it clear from the get-go that these were not the Bessies we were used to.  First of all, after having been a joint effort of the Joyce Theater, Danspace Project, and Dance Theater Workshop, they will now be overseen by a neutral partner: Dance/NYC.   The Bessies have also found a great new home, at Symphony Space, where tickets were free to anyone who could get one.

After many community organized conversations (am I just projecting lots of eye-rolling?), what has become clear is that the Bessies aren’t doing a good enough job recognizing its own base – and there is certainly not enough variety, or even any definable categories.  What the new awards will give us are prizes for shows in small theaters, those in larger venues, those made by emerging choreographers, and those by established ones, and hopefully lots of other distinctions in between.  Designers and creative collaborators will share more of the spotlight, and there will even be an award that comes with a monetary commission and residency hours at Symphony Space.  The committee itself has increased its membership threefold, so it says.  And each member will be listed on the Dance/NYC website, along with contact information, so you can actually invite them to your shows.  Aim for the stars.  What will stay, and remains as vital as ever, are the individual dancer awards.

For now, in order to a least recognize the last two years of work, we got an ad hoc ceremony.  And it was, I think, a great success.  Aside from having Isaac Mizrahi as the emcee, the best decision made was to have the entire creative team and cast present on stage to accept each honor, with each member given her/his own award to take home.

What was made clear, over and over, is that we are a very small community – and as such it is increasingly important to take a moment each year to celebrate the breadth, the diversity, and the amazing talent of our field.  And we need to continue the collective conversation about how the art is evolving, being revolutionized by new technologies and new contributors, in order to maintain, and perhaps even increase, our own relevance.  Certainly, if we don’t pat ourselves on the back, will anyone do the deed for us?  We must move forward as a cooperative, the committee kept saying.  Dance is dance, no matter how you do it – and the new Bessies are here to show us the best of our art, whether you like it or not.

For fun, I compiled my own short list of special citations for the 2010 Bessies ceremony:

…to Lucy Sexton for her amazing production management of the Bessies, and for her impassioned and unique standing ovation fundraiser.

…to Stephen Daldry, for agreeing to donate $5,000 on the spot for the future of the awards.

…to Isaac Mizrahi for breathing wonderful and humorous new life into what has been a pretty staid celebration.  He infused the night with stylish wit and loving parody.

…to Jock Soto, for the most earnest line of the night: “After retirement, I found butter”.

…to Gus Solomons, Jr. for his elegant rebuttal of the New York Times’ critic of note’s article about the state of dance in New York.  A delicious mockery.

…and, finally, to Heather Olson, Michelle Boulé and David Leventhal, who each received surprise recognition for her/his captivating performances – they were amazingly gracious, eloquent, sensitive and generous in their impromptu speeches – a touching lesson in humble gratitude.

See the complete listing of the 2009-2010 New York Dance and Performance Award citations.

One thought on “And the Bessie goes to…(a review)”

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