Nathan McNatt in Prelude “Discipline is Freedom” (1981/2022) by Garth Fagan and Garth Fagan Dance (Kierstyn Zaykoski photo)

At the 39th annual Bessies (the New York Dance and Performance Awards), Virginia Johnson, founding member and former artistic director of Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH), will receive the Lifetime Achievement in Dance award, and Michele Byrd-McPhee, founder and executive director of Ladies of Hip-Hop, will receive this year’s award for Outstanding Service to the Field of Dance. The New York Dance and Performance Awards will be held on Friday, August 4, at Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Park as part of Lincoln Center’s Summer for the City.  

Johnson joined the company in 1969, dancing principal roles in classical, neoclassical, and contemporary works such as Giselle, A Streetcar Named Desire and more. She was appointed artistic director of DTH by founder Arthur Mitchell in 2010. Johnson ventured into choreography but her interest in journalism led her to Fordham University where she pursued a degree in communications. After retiring from performing, she studied serigraphy, filmmaking, and television production before becoming the founding editor-in-chief of POINTE magazine from 2000 to 2009. In July 2023, Johnson officially stepped down as artistic director of the dance company and passed artistic leadership of DTH to Robert Garland, DTH’s resident choreographer.

Ladies of Hip-Hop is a nonprofit organization empowering girls and women through hip-hop culture and arts. Byrd-McPhee worked in TV and arts production for many years and in 2020, was awarded an Integrated Arts Residency Fellowship grant at University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she taught her course, “Hip-Hop, Women and the World.”

Nominees for the 2023 Bessies are as follows.

Outstanding Choreographer/Creator: Vanessa Anspaugh, LaTasha Barnes, Sidra Bell, Jessica Chen, Dormeshia, Rennie Harris, Deborah Hay, Benjamin Akio Kimitch, Jordan Demetrius Lloyd, Shamel Pitts, Lia Rodrigues, and Omari Wiles.

Outstanding Revival: Pina Bausch & Tanztheater Wuppertal, Camille A. Brown & Dancers, Garth Fagan & Garth Fagan Dance, Twyla Tharp

Outstanding Sound Design/Music Composition: Roman Bestion, Fouad Boussouf, and Marion Castor, Graham Reynolds, Evil Tracy the International Showoff and DJ Razor Ramon, Charles Turner and Sean.

Outstanding “Breakout” Choreographer: Bryan and Shaina Baira of BAIRA, Symara Johnson, Soles of Duende: Amanda Castro, Brinda Guha, Arielle Rosales, marion spencer

Outstanding Performer: Billy Barry, j. bouey, Amanda Castro, Joyce Edwards, Timothy Edwards, Rachel Harris, Niall Jones, Albert Silindokuhle Ibokwe Khoza, Maleek Washington, Ensemble: Anand Bolder, Louise Dahl, Freddy Houndekindo, Eliott Marmouset, Adam Schütt, Johanna Tengan, Vincent Van Der Plas, Ensemble: bree breeden, Wendell Gray II, José Lapaz Rodriguez, Jordan Demetrius Lloyd, Mia Martelli, Mykel Marai Nairne, Owen Prum, Kennedy Thomas,  and Ensemble: Marielys Burgos-Meléndez, Rafael V. Cañals Pérez, Christopher “Unpezverde” Núñez.

Outstanding Visual Design: Isabela Dos Santos (Animation), Sarai Frazier (Lighting), Zane Pihlström (Costume and Stage Design), Tina Tzoka and Loukas Bakas (Set Design), Stephanos Droussiotis (Lighting Design), Nektarios Dionysatos (Props), Dimitris Korres (Mechanical Inventions).

The queer pop duo The Illustrious Blacks (Manchildblack x Monstah Black) will host this year’s ceremony, and presenters include Mireicy Aquino, George Faison, Jhailyn Farcon, Dionne Figgins, Erin Fogerty, Tiffany Geigel, Dyane Harvey Salaam, Karisma Jay, Gian Marco Riccardo Lo Forte, Fredrick Earl Mosley, Abdel Salaam, Paz Tanjuaquio, and Ms Vee. 

The 2023 Bessie Jury panelists—Ayodele Casel, Kyle Marshall, and luciana achugar—will present the award to this year’s Juried honoree. 

Admission is free.  Find out more about the event and register for tickets at

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