On Monday evening, the dance community came together from the far reaches of New York City (and beyond) to celebrate the power of performance at the historic Apollo Theater in Harlem. The New York Dance and Performance Awards — fondly referred to as the Bessies in honor of widely respected teacher and mentor Bessie Schonberg — have recognized exceptional work in choreography, performance, music composition, visual design and dance scholarship for the past 30 years.
The Bessies engage hundreds of performers, dance makers, administrators, presenters, producers and advocates from diverse sectors of the contemporary and cultural dance community — and it’s probably the only night of the year that Herman Cornejo, a principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre; Ron “Prime Tyme” Myles, an originator of the street style "memphis jookin"; and Eugene Louis “Luigi” Faccuito, an innovator and iconic symbol of jazz dance, will be in the same room!
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The evening was hosted by former Cunningham dancer Gus Solomons Jr. and former American Ballet Theatre principal Martine Van Hamel, who began with a performance of Paul Taylor’s 1956 radical work “Duet” to John Cage’s score “4:33." Over the course of the event, winning artists (and the overwhelming number of proxies due to other engagements) made appearances onstage, most remembering to stop by the Tree of Hope, a good luck symbol at the Apollo, on the way to collecting their awards.
One of the most poignant moments of the night was when the directors of Third Rail Projects (Outstanding Production winner for "Then She Fell") offered heartfelt gratitude and recognition to their collaborators for their contributions by raising the house lights and asking for a round of applause for those seated in the balcony. In that moment, we were reminded of the generosity that it takes to offer oneself through performance and the beauty of collectively experiencing that gift.
Congratulations to all of the Bessie Award winners:
Outstanding Production: Michael Keegan-Dolan’s "Rian" for Fabulous Beast
Dance Theatre at Lincoln Center’s White Lights Festival, for a dance
of life-affirming joy that featured an extraordinary group of dancers
from Nigeria, Indonesia and Europe.
Outstanding Production: Joanna Haigood’s "Paseo" at Dancing in
the Streets & Casita Maria Center for Arts, for taking the audience on
a celebratory passage through Bronx cultural life set to the Latin
beats that originated in these neighborhoods.
Outstanding Production: Zach Morris, Tom Pearson and Jennine
Willett’s "Then She Fell" for Third Rail Projects at Arts@Rennaissance
and Kingsland Ward at St. Johns, for using dance and fractured text to
create a dreamscape as compelling and disorienting as Alice in
Wonderland’s original journey.
Outstanding Production: Liz Santoro’s "Watch It" at Museum of
Arts and Design, for blurring art and life by placing the audience in
a space from which they viewed New York street life, choreography by
chance and choice.
Outstanding Revival: Bill T. Jones’ "D-Man in the Waters" for the Bill
T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company at the Joyce Theater for returning
to a work of great joy born of a time of great loss and bringing its
fierce fight for life to a new generation.
Outstanding Performance: Sebastien Ramirez and Honji Wang in their
duet "AP15" at the Breakin’ Convention at the Apollo Theater. This
electric duet, rooted in hip-hop, explored the space between the lover
and the loved with delicacy, passion and agility.
Outstanding Performance: Charles “Lil Buck” Riley and Ron
“Prime Tyme” Myles at Poisson Rouge. This duo inhabited the space
where street styles become stage artistry, catching rhythms with
intricate footwork, slides, toe stands, rippling torsos and sudden
Outstanding Performance: Jaro Vinarsky in Pavel Palissimo’s
"Bastard" at La MaMa Moves! Dance Festival. A coiled bolt of energy
capable of captivating stillness and explosive physicality, he made
every moment harrowing, sharp and urgent.
Outstanding Performance: Herman Cornejo of American Ballet
Theater. He combines an astonishing technical ability with an
unaffected purity of movement in the works of choreographers Alexei
Ratmansky, Mark Morris and Twyla Tharp.
Oustanding Performance: Shantala Shivalingappa for "Shiva
Ganga," for embodying the god Shiva and the spirit of the River Ganges
in one riveting performance, a vibrant athletic battle of life force.
Outstanding Sound Design: Ant Hampton and Tim Etchells for "The Quiet
Volume" at Performance Space 122 and PEN World Voices Festival, for
their use of intimately whispered text in a work in libraries across
the city and for a score which heightened the experience in a space at
once public and private.
Outstanding Visual Design: Fleur Elise Noble for "2 Dimensional
Life of Her" at Under the Radar Festival at the Public Theater. She
used detailed projections onto simple paper cut-outs to create a
complex, playful, visually compelling world.