Theater

In the Black

by

When host Doug Elkins walked up the Joyce aisle in a tuxedo, bearing
flowers for his consort (the fabulously endowed gender bender Varla Jean Merman), we knew
the New York Dance and Performance Awards–founded in 1983, and familiarly known as
the Bessies–had ascended to a new level. The show opened with Charles Atlas’s
mordant video collage honoring not just all Marthas everywhere but even Mothra. Atlas
himself, in bondage trousers, received an award.

Brooklyn won big: Gowanus Art Exchange took a special citation, and a
Bessie went to Ronald K. Brown (part of whose Gate Keepers was danced by
Philadanco). Arts managers Laura Greer, Mikki Shepard, and Stephanie Hughley, responsible
for Dance Women/Living Legends, were cited, as was Carla Maxwell for leading the
restoration of the Limón Dance Company after Limón’s death in 1972. Antonio Ramos,
clad in an endless stream of dresses, passed out plaques, and the quicksilver Elkins
danced fond spoofs of Trisha Brown, Merce Cunningham, and Mark Morris.

Receiving cash prizes funded by the Voice were Jane Comfort,
Douglas Dunn, Elizabeth Streb, Doug Varone (whose troupe performed), David Neumann,
the Kriyas team (Mia Lawrence, Douglas Henderson, Guy Yarden, and Danielle
Epstein), and the B Team (a glassblowing collaborative), as well as dancers Pedro Ruiz,
Hope Boykin, Hope Clark (whose parents claimed her prize while she danced in Australia),
Lawrence Keigwin, Jaime Martinez, and Eddie Taketa. Composers feted were Mark Bennett,
Robert Black, Robert Een, Aska Kaneko, Hiroshi Yoshino, the group Fellaheen, Sômei Satoh,
and the Kronos Quartet. Designers Bill Ballou, Michael Casselli, David Covey, Jeff
Fontaine, and Nari Ward took home plaques.

Looking elegant, fit, and even prosperous, dance community members
packed the theater. Despite the fiscal hardships faced by many, groundbreaking work goes
on. This formerly “alternative” undertaking seems to have come of
age.

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