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Flash Report, 9-26: Of These, Perseverance
'Bessies' Best Urge us on

By Maura Nguyen Donohue
Copyright 2001 Maura Nguyen Donohue

This past Friday Dance Theater Workshop and the 2001 Bessies Committee, in association with Danspace Project and the Joyce Theater, presented the 17th Annual New York Dance and Performance Awards (a.k.a. the Bessies, after the late and legendary Bessie Schonberg). This year's awards included 28 citations honoring a total of 30 individuals for 2000-2001 achievements. The evening, with Patricia Hoffbauer and George Emilio Sanchez MCing, was at moments uplifting, somber, sentimental and, thankfully, a little bit silly. The event, and many of the presenters and recipients, served as testimony to the insight shared by Catherine Turocy that "perseverance furthers." It was an affirmation for many who have struggled recently with issues of relevance and also proved inspirational in the best manner that dancers can present themselves: Alive and in person.

The program began with four spots focused to a single spot on the stage around which composer Robert Een and others gathered and sang "Amazing Grace." When many members of the audience quietly joined in, we were all united in a sincere and spontaneous instant. It was a precious and fleeting moment of unity considering that, despite what our major TV networks might offer for the slogan for the times, I don't feel particularly united with my country, nor my neighbors, roommates, family or friends most days. Now can be a terrifyingly lonely time as each of us struggles beyond shock, grief, and survivor guilt through significant questioning of what might have been long-standing, but unchallenged, convictions and into the unsettling quiet of the aftermath. But, Friday's gathering proved thankfully to be one small step not 'back to normal' but rather forward on the new path each of us is trying to forge.

Aside from serving as a healing gathering for the dance community, the evening also celebrated the persevering spirit of many artists who have struggled to do what DTW's executive director, David White, posed as a challenge to us all: They have made their work matter. They have created as if their lives depended on it. And Friday night each of them was reminded that they are indeed needed, perhaps now more than ever. Hearing the confessions of internal confusion from artists I'd consider to be seasoned veterans was strangely more soothing than their assurances. Everyone is trying to answer his or her own questions. Katherine Dunham, who received a special citation for her life's work as a dancer, choreographer, anthropologist and activist stated her response to recent events with a simple, "Peace, Wisdom, Courage & Love."

(Also receiving a special citation was videographer Dennis Diamond of Video D Studios. To see a sample of Video D's work, click here.)

Rennie Harris Puremovement presented an excerpt from "Rome & Jewels" that was a delightful explosion of energy. Knowing that I had been carefully protective of my own 'self' -- both body and mind -- lately I was surprisingly relieved by the loud, albeit necessarily violent, sounds and performances. The acrobatics were fun, the young performers full of vitality and the spirits high. David Gordon and Valda Setterfield's intimate duet fit as a perfect counterpart as an ever-shifting landscape of embrace.

Of course, the joy of watching an overcome recipient stammer through a dazed acceptance also served as a delightful affirmation and a blessed diversion. There were many heartfelt moments and while some awardees were too stunned to say much there were various gems offered from presenters and awardees alike. Stacey Dawson's "New York Rules" ranked pretty high. Hoffbauer and Sanchez spoke of rebirth and emphasized that "now is the time" to further and fulfill the hope, dreams and potential of all those lives lost. Bebe Miller reminded us that we support each other and in turn, "we support the world." Bill T. Jones quoted Rumi in a poem that began "The human shape is a ghost." Rennie Harris shared that "many people have sacrificed their lives for our path" and in considering that, I can't help but kick myself to make every moment matter. Suddenly a much more daunting and weighted effort for those of us creating in these moments after.

The complete list of awardees follows. For recipient bios, please visit DTW's web site.

Choreographer/Creator Awards were given to: Lucinda Childs, for sustained Achievement in her retrospective season at BAM; David Gordon for FAMILY$DEATH@ART.Comedy; Rennie Harris Puremovement for "Rome & Jewels"; Guy Klucevsek and Dan Hurlin for Everyday Uses For Sight: No. 7, "The Heart of the Andes"; John Jasperse for "Excessories through Fort Blossom and Beyond"; Bjorn G. Amelan and Bill T. Jones for "The Breathing Show" and "The Table Project"; Bebe Miller for "Verge"; Catherine Turocy for her work with the New York Baroque Dance Company, most recently in "Pygmalion."

Performance Installation and New Media Award went to: Adrian Piper for her body of work at The New Museum.

Performer Awards were given to: Nancy Bannon for sustained achievement with Doug Varone; Soledad Barrios for her work with Noche Flamenca; Patrick Corbin for sustained achievement with the Paul Taylor Dance Company; Rodney Mason for Rennie Harris Puremovement's "Rome & Jewels"; Jodi Melnick for sustained achievement in dancing the works of choreographers from Twyla Tharp and Sara Rudner to Susan Rethorst, Dennis O'Connor and Vicky Shick; Buffy Miller for Eliot Feld's "Clave" and "ION" at the Joyce Theater; David Thomson for sustained achievement with Ralph Lemon, Hot Mouth, Trisha Brown and Bebe Miller, among others; and Stephanie Tooman for sustained achievement with Reggie Wilson.

Composer Awards went to: Cynthia Hopkins for Big Dance Theater's "Another Telepathic Thing" Darrin Ross for Rennie Harris Puremovement's "Rome & Jewels"; and Hahn Rowe for Bebe Miller's "Verge."

Visual Design Awards went to: David Ferri for sustained achievement with Julie Tolentino and Doug Varone; Bernard Lagace for Set Design for PPS Danse's Bagne; Rick Murray for Lighting Design for Wally Cardona's "Trance Territory"; and Scott Pask and Michael Mazzola for set design and lighting design respectively, for Bebe Miller's "Verge."

Special Citations were given to: Dennis Diamond for his work as videographer and dance/video collaborator; Katherine Dunham for her life's work as a dancer, choreographer, anthropologist and activist; and David Vaughan for Sustained Achievement as an author and for his archival work for Merce Cunningham.

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