BWW Reviews: The 2013 Bessies at the Apollo Theater Honor NYC Dance Artists
New York City's dance luminaries, rising stars, and fans were out in full force at the fabled Apollo Theater in Harlem on the evening of Monday, October 7th 2013 to attend the 29th annual Bessies Awards. The ceremony, named for contemporary dance legend Bessie Schonberg and produced in partnership with Dance/NYC, recognizes established as well as upcoming artists who have made outstanding contributions to the many disciplines of the liveliest art in the Dance Mecca of the World.
Former Merce Cunningham dancer Gus Solomons Jr. and former American Ballet Theatre principal Martine van Hamel were the thoroughly delightful co-hosts. Gus and Martine also performed Paul Taylor's "Duet", a work that has not been seen since 1957 and which simply requires the pair to strike a pose and remain motionless in silence for four minutes. The effect was oddly powerful, a kind of evocation of the enduring professional stage presence of these two dance greats. Kudos to the audience members, all of whom remained quiet and seemingly awed for the duration of the piece rather than reacting as though it were a joke or perhaps a mistake on the part of the sound crew. Given the fact that many of the attendees were wildly enthusiastic young people who later whooped and whistled for their favorites on the nominees lists, the respect they showed for "Duet" was testimony to the admirably high level of knowledge and sophistication the New York dance scene possesses.
One highlight of the event was the touching moment when dance historian Lynn Garafola presented the Service to the Field Award to another noted dance historian, Nancy Reynolds. Nancy spoke eloquently of her passion for the Interpreters Archive that she conceived and continues to direct. The project is a video series in which dancers who originated roles in Balanchine ballets pass on their knowledge to the dancers of today. She said the work shows that "artistry remains even after dancers leave the stage", an uplifting reminder of the lasting value of those in a field with a fleeting confluence of physical prowess and artistic maturity.
Another unforgettable moment happened when Bessies Director Lucy Sexton brought the audience's attention to a screen where the names of those being honored In Memorium were projected. The list included Frederick Franklin, David Howard, Maria Tallchief, Matt Mattox, and Jean-Léon Destiné, among others. A spontaneous standing ovation was a well-deserved tribute.
On a much lighter note, the youthful performers who graced the stage during the event were evidence of the first rate dancing that NYC's new generation is capable of delivering. Especially compelling was "Torchsong #1", choreographed and performed by 2013 Juried Bessie Award winner Darrell Jones. Also intriguing was the show's opener, "It Happened It Had Happened It Is Happening It Will Happen", choreographed for three dancers by 2013 Bessie Award for Outstanding Emerging Choreographer winner Joanna Kotze. The Paul Taylor 2 troupe, in his 3 Epitaphs, was superb as well. Taylor received the 2012 Bessie Award for Lifetime Achievement in Dance.
This year, that award went to jazz icon Luigi. The original Singular Sensation, Donna McKechnie, presented the plaque with charm and obvious affection. Luigi, in a wheelchair situated on house right near the orchestra section, sported his famous "5, 6, 7, 8" lapel pin and smiled broadly to acknowledge the thunderous applause when a spotlight shone on him.
After that fitting finale, the exuberant crowd filed out of the theater, with its gorgeous crimson and gold Belle-Époque décor, and headed for a free afterparty at the Alhambra Ballroom that held the promise of refreshments and, of course, dancing. A storm that had threatened to drench the theatergoers had blown over, as if in acknowledgement of the joyous tradition in which the New York dance community commends its own.