THE ANNUAL BESSIE AWARDS 2019
October 15, 2019
On a brisk, bright fall day members of the dance community streamed into NYU’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts greeting everyone with hugs and kisses, and squeals of delight. In the theater, Lucy Sexton (an award-winning avant-garde artist and administrative powerhouse) welcomed the full house along with her sensational associate the Bessies’ Managing Director Heather Robles (decked in an off-the shoulder dress created by her mother) introduced the evening’s inimitable MC Justin Vivian Bond donning a gorgeous sparkling gown.
The categories for the NY Dance and Performance Awards ran from “Outstanding Performer” to “Outstanding Revival” and “Lifetime Achievement Award in Dance.” A list of all the stellar nominees and winners can be found here: bessies.org.
In between the announcements of the categories and nominees, choreographers presented works starting with a stirring West African laced dance “Migrations” by Camille A. Brown & Dancers and musicians. Other performance contributions came from Hope Boykin and performer Jeroboam Bozeman; Daina Ashbee and performer Benjamin Kamino. The performances represented the wide swath of dance practices thriving in the larger NYC dance community.
This year’s Lifetime Achievement in Dance Award was presented to Joan Myers Brown, founder and director of Philadanco, based in Philadelphia, PA. Introduced by George Faison, the first African American Tony Award-winning choreographer, cultural entrepreneur and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater mainstay, spoke majestically about Ms. Myers-Brown’s talents and vast contributions.
When Myers-Brown arrived on stage, elegantly dressed in a sparkly sheath and black spiked heels, she looked very bit the dancer she once was—both as an aspiring ballet dancer under the tutelage of Antony Tudor and show dancer. She loved ballet, but she made money as a show dancer, which ultimately paid for the school she opened in a derelict block of Philadelphia that ultimately became the renowned dance company Philadanco.
She, like so many other great women of dance, proved that tenacity and passion combine to build and propel essential dance institutions. Coming out of the Jim Crow era, Ms. Myers-Brown studied with some of the greats like Karel Shook (founder with Arthur Mitchell of Dance Theater of Harlem) at Katherine Dunham’s school. While idolizing Janet Collins (the first African American ballerina to dance with a ballet company—Met Opera Ballet) she did not fulfill her dreams of being a ballet princess, but Myers-Brown did widen the opportunities afforded the next generation of African American dancers.
The award for Service to the Field of Dance went to Louis Mofsie, founder and director of the Thunderbird American Indian Dancers—a company intent on preserving the dances, songs and cultural ways of Native Americans.
To welcome Mofsie to the stage, Mofsie’s nephew Kevin Tarrant of SilverCloud, an intertribal drum and dance troupe,
sang a haunting solo accompanied by a hand-held drum. When Mofsie accepted his award he made an important point: Native American dance is an artform. Mofsie is all about people staying grounded through community, and that community centers around music, dance and stories.
All of the final recipients were deeply moved by the community’s honors. In the case of Taylor Stanley’s (NYC Ballet Principal) award in the category of Outstanding Performer, the presenter Sara Mearns (NYCB Principal) nearly broke down when announcing his name.
When Ana Janevski accepted the award for “Judson Dance Theater: The Work is Never Done,” the audience learned that the extraordinary exhibition and series of performances took three years to execute.
Overall the evening was filled with enthusiasm and gratitude. The only odd moment came during the In Memoriam section. Three artists who had passed were singled out with spoken tributes. This was awkward because the rest of deceased artists’ names were projected in a rolling list.
Perhaps in the future, the Bessies will instead include a one or two-word description of the deceased dance professionals clarifying their identities because the Bessie Awards not only celebrate exceptionalism in dance, they educate the community by linking today’s dance champions to yesterday’s warriors.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis