Bessie Awards acknowledge downtown performers
By Doris Diether
The presentation of the 2003 New York Dance and Performance Awards (The Bessies) took place recently at the Joyce Theater. This is the 19th time the awards, made in honor of Bessie Schonberg Varley, have been presented. A panel of the presenters, curators, writers and artists chose the recipients after they attended, cumulatively, nearly 2000 performances of contemporary work presented in the New York area during the season from July 2002 to June 2003. Besides the award itself, each recipient receives a check for $500 or $1000.
Two lower Manhattan residents were among this years recipients, and many of the performances took place in local venues. Dance Theater Workshop is the official presenter, in association with the Danspace Project and the Joyce Theater. Introductory remarks were made by representatives of the three groups: Laurie Uprichard, associate director of Danspace; Craig T. Peterson, artistic director of dance theater workshop; and Martin Wechsler, director of programming for the Joyce Theater.
Uprichard mentioned that this was the first year that David White, former director of Dance Theater Workshop, was not in charge. She had been at his side for 16 of those 19 years. Peterson gave particular thanks to Time Out magazine which had donated a sizable amount of money for the awards.
The choreographer/creator awards with a $1000 check are the most eagerly awaited. This years presenters were Ronald K. Brown, founder of the dance company Evidence, which will be performing at the Joyce Theater from Oct. 21 to 26, and Jennifer Monson, Bessie recipient in 1997.
One of the choreographer/creator awards went to Amy Sue Rosen and Derek Bernstein of lower West Street for their work culminating in Break/Broke at Dance Theater Workshop. This husband and wife team collaborated for 20 years and created over 20 works together until Rosen died in February of this year. Rosen was the primary choreographer and Bernstein was her advisor plus working on the sets. He is a painter and also works on film sets. Bernstein hopes to create a foundation in Rosens name to assist young choreographers in creating new dance works, but plans are not completed yet.
Native Canadian Noemie LaFrance was awarded a Bessie and $1,000 for her work, Descent, which was staged at the City Court Clock Tower. She has also performed at more traditional sites such as P.S. 122 and Theater for the New City, and designs costumes and dancewear. Brooks Williams from Tribeca (for 20 years) received a Bessie and $500 for creating the soundtrack for Descent. He is a composer and sound designer and started Harmonic Ranch, an audio post-production studio in 1985. Although the score for Descent took three to four months, work continues on it because it will be repeated in late October and November this year.
Vicky Shick and Barbara Kilpatrick shared a choreographic Bessie and $1000 check for Undoing, presented at Dance Theater Workshop. An excerpt from the work was performed on stage at the Joyce during the ceremony. A Bessie went to Sarah Michelson for her work, Shadowmann, the two parts presented in succession at the Kitchen and P.S. 122 last April. DD Dorvillier walked away with his Bessie and $1000 for Dressed for Floating at Danspace Project and David Kean garnered a $500 check and Bessie for his soundscape for the same program.
RoseAnne Spradlin took home a Bessie and $1000 for under/world at Squid Performance Space and three of her dancersWalter Dundervill, Athena Malloy and Tasha Taylorshared a Bessie and $500 check for their performance in this work. Other choreographic Bessie recipients were Yasuko Yokoshi for Shuffle at P.S. 122 and Penny Arcade for Working My Way Down at Fez.
The Performance Awards and $500 checks were supposed to be given by Paul Matteson, a David Dorfman dancer and 2002 Bessie award recipient for Body of Work, and Karen Graham, dancer and assistant for David Gordon/Pick-Up Performance Company and also a 2002 Bessie award winner for Sustained Achievement. However, for the award to Robert Swinston for Sustained Achievement, the presenter was Merce Cunningham, long time Village choreographer. Swinston joined the Cunningham company in 1980 and in July 1992 became Cunninghams assistant.
Christine Dakin received a Bessie for Sustained Achievement. A member of the Martha Graham Dance Company since 1976, she is one of the few dancers who performed many of Grahams roles. She is now on the faculties of both the Juliard School and the Martha Graham School. Diedra Nyota Dawkins received a Bessie and check for her dancing in Ronald K. Browns Walking out the Dark at Dance Theater Workshop. An excerpt from that work was danced on stage during the ceremony. Scott Heron, a dancer for about 20 years, went home with a performers Bessie and $500 which cited his work in Jennifer Millers Circus Amok and Electric Haiku by Cathy Weis.
The award for Germaul Jusef Barnes for his work with Bill T. Jones was accepted by someone else since Barnes was performing at the Kitchen, but he did arrive before the program was over and got to walk on stage to get his applause.
Another major event at each Bessie ceremony is the awarding of the Special Citations for Sustained Achievement and this years recipients were truly outstanding. Sylvia Waters, a native New Yorker, began dancing in junior high school and graduated in 1962 from Julliard. She performed with Donald McKayle and studied at the Martha Graham School. In 1964 she traveled to Paris and stayed for three years before getting homesick for New York. Returning to the U.S., she joined the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1968 and stayed until 1975 when she took over as director of the Alvin Ailey Repertory Ensemble. She is now Artistic Director of Ailey II.
Sally Banes, the other recipient, is a noted writer on dance and Professor of Theater and Dance Studies at University of Wisconsin/Madison. From 1992 -1996, she was chair of their dance program. But it is as an author that she is better known. Many of her books deal with early dance in New York, such as the Judson Dance Theater, and she has also written for many newspapers and magazines. Banes flew in from Wisconsin to receive her award. The presenters for these Special Citation Awards were Wendy Perron from Dance Magazine and Judith Jamieson from Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
Time Out Magazine initiated its own award this year, the Popular Achievement Award, chosen by the dance audience by voting on Time Out Magazines e-mail network. The award was presented by an audience member and went to Troika Ranch (Mark Coniglio and Dawn Stoppiello) for their work Future of Memory at the Duke on 42nd St. This is the most lucrative award, a $1000 check and $2500 for free advertising in the magazine.
A New Media Bessie with $1000 check went to Marina Abramovic for her The House with the Ocean View at the Sean Kelly Gallery. Other awards with a $500 check went to Craig Harris for the score for Brown Butterfly based on Mohammed Ali, at Aaron Davis Hall, presented by Lenny Pickett, composer and musical director; John Collins for his lighting for Elevator Repair Services Room Tome at P.S. 122; Holger Forterer for lighting and projections for Angelin Preljocajs Helikopter at Brooklyn Academy of Music; and Laurie Olinder, Bill Morrison, Howard Thesis and Fred Tietz (design team for Ridge Theater) for their designs for Ridge Theaters Jennie Richee. These awards were presented by Sue Poulin who received her Bessie in 1990.
The audience was ushered into the theater to the lively sounds of the Circus Amok Band in colorful costumes. The slightly outrageous Masters of Ceremony were Julia Atlas Muz, who will be showing her own work at Dance Theater Workshop this March and April, and the bearded Jennifer Miller who works with Circus Amok and took home a Bessie in 1995 and an OBIE in 2000. A party followed at The Cutting Room on 24th Street.