THE BESSIES 2016
October 19, 2016
The 32nd Annual NY Dance & Performance Awards (the “Bessies,” named after the esteemed dance teacher Bessie Schonberg), returned to BAM this year, produced in partnership with Dance/NYC, introduced by the Bessies executive directory Lucy Sexton, and hosted by the very funny choreographer and comedian Adrienne Truscott, whose wacky costume changes were themselves worthy of an award.
The New York dance scene is so rich, so diverse, so wildly broad in its scope, that even if one is an avid dancegoer, it is impossible to take it all in. Although the lineup feels impossibly like comparing apples and oranges, the Bessies nonetheless are a useful roundup of the year, with a strong emphasis on the downtown scene. The viral video of Mikhail Baryshnikov speaking about being an immigrant and “leaving a country with walls” opened the show, announcing a strong and unsurprising political stance from the start.
Live performance highlights included a work by Outstanding Emerging Choreographer Joya Powell, an excerpt from an Outstanding Revived Work, Donald McKayle’s classic Rainbow ‘Round My Shoulder, performed by Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, and a joyful group tap dance number in honor of Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Brenda Bufalino.
Awards were given with dances, speeches and videos interspersed between presentations, including four for Outstanding Production (Souleymane Badolo, Pat Graney, Maria Hassabi, Ralph Lemon), four Outstanding Performer (Ephrat Asherie, Kazunori Kumagai, Molly Lieber, Jamar Roberts), Outstanding Music Design (Dan Trueman in collaboration with So¯ Percussion and Mobius Percussion), Outstanding Visual Design (Holly Batt), and a Juried Bessie Award (Pam Tanowitz).
A Special Citation was given to Eiko Otake by Meredith Monk, and Ayodel Casel presented Brenda Bufalino’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Both of these women received touching tributes and well deserved praised for sustained contributions to the NY dance scene and beyond. Two awards for Outstanding Service to the Field of Dance were delivered to Alex Smith, for his work supporting African-American dance, and the women at the Jerome Robbins Dance Division of New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, for its unique role as the largest dance archive library in the world.
It is wonderful to see dance artists being celebrated, and each nominee even received $500. Still, it seemed a bit odd to witness the obvious divide between the “uptown” and “downtown” NY scenes, in terms of the work itself, audiences, resources, and recognition, even with recent gestures such as the collaborations at Dancespace between contemporary choreographers and New York City Ballet dancers.
Decades ago, dancers and choreographers started crossing the dance genre divide, in terms of training (or not), creating, presenting and surviving. That cross-pollination greatly benefitted the art form as a whole, but it seems that in recognizing dance achievement, we still mostly stick to our own side of the equator.
Nonetheless, a wide range of dance was represented, including break dancing, house, tap, black dance, modern, jazz, ballet, and that enigmatic catch all, “contemporary,” as well as performances that, as Outstanding Production Award recipient Ralph Lemon put it frankly about his own Scaffold Room, stretched the idea of dance altogether.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Nicole Duffy Robertson