There’s no better way to start off a new season of dance than with a reflection on the past season’s highlights. That is what the 22nd Annual New York Dance and Performance Awards (known as The Bessies) did on September 17th in the same lengthy way most awards ceremonies occur, but in a more sedated and seemingly toned down manner than in years past. The event was hosted by artists Bebe Miller and Stephen Petronio, who led us through the evening’s awards not with the usual fanfair performances and comedy, but with an air of seriousness mixed with subtle flair— Stephen had six costume changes ranging from a black tux coat to a bright pink one, and Bebe had three.
Costume changes were not the true highlights of the evening. Cathy Edwards, the former artistic director of Dance Theater Workshop, introduced her successor, Carla Peterson, Neil Greenberg restaged an excerpt from his 1995 The Disco Project, and a brief but stunning section of Susan Marshall’s Cloudless was performed as was the entire playful duet, Bud, choreographed by Stephen Petronio.
Most memorable, however, was the 1988 Bessie Award video showing Bessie SchÃ¶nberg (for whom the Bessies are named) accepting an award for her achievements. “I didn’t think that I would ever hold one. I was just made into one for whatever good purposes” she said. Of dance and performance work she added, “We need to be innovative and fresh of course. But we need to be more outrageous, more wild, more daring.”
The 2006 award recipients represented a range of work that is indeed innovative, outrageous and daring. Choreographer/Creator Awards were given to Wally Cardona for Everywhere; Miguel Gutierrez for Retrospective Exhibitionist _and _Difficult Bodies; Susan Marshall for Cloudless; Bebe Miller and the creative team for Landing/Place; Yasuko Yokoshi for What We When We; Jeremy Wade for Glory; and Jawole Willa Jo Zollar for Walking with Pearl...Southern Diaries.
2006 Performer Awards were given to Shani Nwando Ikerioha Collins, Roxane D’OrlÃ©ans Juste, Hristoula Harakas, BenoÃ®t Lachambre, Ryutaro Mishima, Valda Setterfield and Michael Trusnovec.
Composer Awards were presented to Pete Drungle for work in Michael Portnoy’s The K Sound and Hahn Rowe for Forgeries, Love and Other Matters.
Visual Design Awards were given to Lenore Doxsee for lighting Miguel Gutierrez’s award winning work, Jonathan Belcher for designs in Jeremy Wade and Reggie Wilson’s works, and Mikki Kunttu for lighting design for the Tero Saarinen Company and Akram Khan Company. This year’s Installation and New Media Award was given to Verdensteatret for Concert for Greenland at P.S. 122.
The evening’s celebration fittingly extended to recognize not only artists in the field, but those who help fund and support them. Olga Garay was presented with a special citation for her “long-standing commitment to performing arts presenting institutions” and Dianne McIntyre for her “pioneering work with women, and with African-American and American spiritual traditions in dance.” Norma Munn was presented with The Susan E. Kennedy Memorial Award for her dedication to supporting artists work.
The celebration of the community resounded through the evening with boisterous cheers from the crowd for nearly every recipient, and tearful thanks from many. Three recipients were so surprised that they admitted to having been tricked into coming to the awards. Despite the number who don’t feel a need to attend, there are also many who show up annually to embrace the achievements of the year in dance and performance art, and who realize that the field’s strengths lie in building its community.