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Henry Baumgartner

The Bessies: Rite of Autumn


Michael Badger and Gino Grenek share a jacket in Petronio’s “bud.” Photo by Julieta Cervantes

By Henry Baumgartner

One of the harbingers of a new dance season in New York is the return of the Bessies, the downtown dance and performance world's annual awards ceremony. Of course it is written on high that such awards must have a pompous-sounding official name as well as a friendly-sounding official nickname, so these are the New York Dance and Performance Awards. A committee of dance-world luminaries selects the winners; the awards ceremony at the Joyce Theater is presented jointly by the Joyce, Dance Theater Workshop, and the Danspace Project. But unlike many such awards ceremonies, this one includes only a few categories of awards, and rather than have a single winner in each, the Bessies Committee can award as many Bessies as they like, thus somewhat mitigating the spirit of competition that tends to hover over these things.

Bebe Miller and Stephen Petronio, well-established choreographers both, were masters of these ceremonies. The usual complement of speeches was increased this year because there is a new boss at DTW, where Carla Peterson is taking over from Cathy Edwards. We were also treated to a brief clip of the late Bessie Schönberg herself, the eponym of these awards, delivering her acceptance speech when she received a Bessie of her own back in 1988. As it happens, I was there at the time and have never forgotten this little speech. I was impressed and moved as this elegant matriarch scolded the assembled artists for not being outrageous enough. (She was right, of course.)

Bebe Miller and Stephen Petronio served as hosts at the Bessies awards presentation. Photo by Julieta Cervantes

The usual parade of astonished awardees gasping in surprise and then reeling off a list of those who must be thanked was relieved by three short performances. Michael Badger and Gino Grenek gave us a duet from Petronio's "bud" (2005), each of them wearing half a suit jacket (costumes by Tara Subkoff). Petronio evokes an atmosphere both erotic and romantic, as the men slide past each other like greased tadpoles. "Frame Dance," an excerpt from Susan Marshall's "Cloudless," presented us with a mass of dancers on a horizontal platform. They were hard to see but were, it seemed, being videoed from above, with the result projected on a screen that filled half the stage. They jostled and cuddled, and one stripped bare. But as the piece progressed, suddenly there were no more dancers on the platform, while the screen was still full of them. Tricky, and fun. Last came an excerpt from Neil Greenberg's "The Disco Project" of 1995, specially revived for this occasion and featuring an amazing solo for Greenberg. The passage of eleven years does not seem to have worn out his dancing shoes one bit.

But of course with an evening like this, what everyone wants to know is: Who took home the cookies? Choreographer/Creator awards went to Wally Cardona, Miguel Gutierrez, Susan Marshall, Jennifer Monson, Jeremy Wade, Yasuko Yokoshi, and Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, as well as to twelve people involved in Bebe Miller's "Landing/Place": Miller herself, Vita Berezina-Blackburn, Maya Ciarrocchi, Kathleen Fisher, Angie Hauser, Kathleen Hermesdorf, Darrell Jones, Albert Mathias, Michael Mazzola, Liz Prince, David Thomson, and Talvin Wilks. An Installation & New Media award was given to the Verdensteatret company for their "Concert for Greenland." Performer awards were given to Shani Nwando Ikerioha Collins, Roxane D'Orléans Juste, Hristoula Harakas, Benoît Lachambre, Ryutaro Mishima, Valda Setterfield, and Michael Trusnovec. Pete Drungle and Hahn Rowe won awards as composers, and Jonathan Belcher, Lenore Doxsee, and Mikki Kunttu were recognized for lighting design. Olga Garay and Dianne McIntyre received special citations, and the Susan E. Kennedy Award for behind-the-scenes contributions to the field was given to Norma Munn of the New York City Arts Coalition.

The Bessies
The 22nd Annual New York Dance and Performance Awards
Joyce Theater
September 17, 2006


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