The dance scene in New York packed the Apollo Theater in droves to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the renowned award ceremony, the Bessies, which honor outstanding creative work in the field. Fittingly, New York City’s first lady, Chirlane McCray, gave enlivening opening remarks “on behalf of her favorite dance partner, Mayor [Bill] de Blasio.”
Hosted by the very funny actress Lisa Kron, one after the other, luminaries in the field presented, received and entertained the crowd. Performances were provided by Megan Williams in Mark Morris’ “Bijoux,” Jawole Willa Jo Zollar’s Urban Bush Women in the always provoking “Shelter,” Jennifer Miller and Jennie Romaine’s “Circus Amok” and Michelle Dorrance’s “Three to One.”
Other highlights of the evening included the Juried Bessie Award going to Gerard and Kelly; Outstanding Production to John Jasperse for “Within Between,” Okwui Okpokwasili in collaboration with Peter Born for “Bronx Gothic,” Camille A. Brown for “Mr. Tol E. RAncE” and Akrram Khan for “Desh”; Outstanding Revival to Nora Chipaumire for “Dark Swan,” performed by Urban Bush Women; Outstanding Performance to Stuart Singer, Rebecca Serrell, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Linda Celeste Sims and Aakash Odedra; Outstanding Music Composition to Simphiwe Dana with Giuliano Modarelli and Complete Quartet for “Exit/Exist” by South African performer Gregory Maqoma and Nicholas Young at American Tap Dance Foundation’s Rhythm in Motion; and Outstanding Visual Design to Peter Ksander, Oliver Gajic, Ryan Holsopple, Chris Kuhl and Keith Skretch for “This Was the End” by Mallory Catlett.
The crowd roared and jumped to their feet when two icons, Arthur Mitchell (Lifetime Achievement Award) and Dr. Chuck Davis (Service to the Field Award), were to receive their awards. Virginia Johnson, current artistic director of Dance Theatre of Harlem and a founding member, introduced the illustrious Jessye Norman to present Mitchell’s award.
Among the many beautifully painted words for Mitchell, Norman opined, “The added beauty of the tan in the skin is but a glorious addition … accept the embrace of all of us.”
Said Mitchell, “This is very, very special for me.”
Mikki Shepard, current executive director of the Apollo and original producer of DanceAfrica!, presented the award to Davis, his longtime friend. After an elegant fanfare of drumming and dancing fit for the elder statesman, Davis, who danced, as always, brought the crowd to their feet, and then accepted the award with grace. This was an evening to be proud of.
The Bessies, so named in honor of revered dance teacher Bessie Schonberg, presented in partnership with Dance/NYC, was established in 1984 by David White at Dance Theater Workshop.