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The Buzz, 9-22: Bested
Bessies into the Breach; New Tricks for the Gray Lady; New Talent at American Repertory Ballet

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2004 The Dance Insider

All Bessies, Little Ballet

In a perfect world, each year our critics would give the dance world and the public a truly independent, if not entirely objective, decree -- if such decrees are really necessary, perhaps as a standard -- of what they consider the best in dance performed in New York City. In a perfect world, dancers and related dance artists would organize en mass for a truly democratic conferring of 'awards.' Lacking such processes -- in New York, anyway -- and with the best of intentions, several leading NYC presenters have commendably stepped into the breach with their own annual awards, working with a committee in turn dominated by representatives and/or employees of presenters and/or curators, plus at least one agent. The popular name of these awards is the Bessies, after the late and legendary dance pedagogue Bessie Schoenberg. The full name of the awards, whose 20th edition took place Friday at the Joyce, is the New York Dance and Performance Awards, but as long as the Bessies continue to essentially omit ballet from consideration, this name is really misleading -- the New York Modern Dance and Performance Awards would be more accurate. (Yes, the modern-veering ballet choreographer William Forsythe and the ballet-trained Christine McMillan were recognized this year, but ballet is still mostly ignored here.)

Presenters see a lot and presumably have educated taste, so the Bessie awards merit our serious attention. (But not before I make a request to the Bessies' organizers: Next time you have companies of the caliber of those of Merce Cunningham and Ben Munisteri performing, you might want to tell the public ahead of time.) Voila, here they are:

Choreographer-creators: Jonathan Burrows and Matteo Fargion, for "Both Sitting Duet," performed at the Kitchen (in the Paris premiere reviewed by me here, only Burrows was credited as the choreographer); Ohad Naharin for "Anaphasa" at Lincoln Center; Justin Bond and Kenny Mellman for "Kiki & Herb," no presenter listed; Koosil-Ja Hwang for "Mech(a)" and body of work at the Nest; Sasha Pepelyaev and Peeter Jalakas for their version of Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake" at Dance Theater Workshop; and Kenneth King and William Forsythe for sustained achievement.

Installation and new media: Deborah Warner for "The Angel Project" at Lincoln Center.

Performers: Arcell Cabuag, of Ronald K. Brown; Holley Farmer, Merce Cunningham; Christine McMillan, Ben Munisteri; Megumi Eda, Karole Armitage; Scott Shepherd, Wooster Group; Lisa Viola, Paul Taylor.

Composer: Philip Hamilton.

Visual design: Brenda Gray of Ronald K. Brown; Chirstophe Draeger with Mighuel Guitierrez; Kathy Kaufmann for body of work over the 2003-04 season; and Douglas Stein for body of work with Susan Marshall.

Special citations went to Mary Anthony, for inspirational teaching; Liz Berger, for arts advocacy; and Mark Russell, for his "artistic vision and 20-year leadership at Performance Space 122."

The Time Out Dance Audience Award -- likely as much an indication of fervent campaigning and fan base as universal acclaim -- went to Saba Dance Theater, and the Susan E. Kennedy award to Kathleen Hughes of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.

All the News that's Fit to Admit

You'd think that after all it's admitted ethical lapses, the New York Times would realize it's time to change it's ways. But no, the Gray Lady is just finding new methods to deny proper credit to competitors who scoop it in its own backyard. We did this last Friday, when we were the first to report, in our Dance Insider email newsletter, the sad news that Dance Theatre of Harlem was laying off its dancers and suspending operations through at least June 2005. (We later posted an amended version of the story here) That afternoon, we received a note from a Boston Globe reporter chasing the story, and who informed us we would be credited for breaking it. This the Globe did in its story published Saturday, but when the Times finally deigned to report this major news Monday, writer Lawrence van Gelder credited not us, but the Globe -- which the Times owns. If he read the Globe story, van Gelder knew the Dance Insider broke it. (In addition, Times dance critic and reporter Jennifer Dunning, a DI listmember, would have heard about it from us first.) Shame, shame, shame on you Mr. van Gelder, and shame on you New York Times. You can beat your breast all you want about reforming your ways, but you ain't walking the talk, Gray Lady.

Tri-state ballet company gets new exec.

No, not Dance Theatre of Harlem -- which has hemorhaged off-and-on for years because artistic director Arthur Mitchell has been unwilling to cede administrative authority to a strong executive director -- but American Repertory Ballet and its 50-year-old Princeton Ballet School. That's where Barry Hughson, former executive director of Complexions Contemporary Ballet and of the Warner Theatre, has signed on for the job of executive director, partnering artistic director Graham Lustig. In addition to his heady administrative resume, Hughson also danced, with the Washington Ballet. ARB opens its 2004-2005 season November 20 at Princeton's McCarter Theater, with Lustig's version of Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker."


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