The Bessies Celebrate 30 Years


Bessie’s 2014 Lifetime Achievement recipients Arthur Mitchell and Chuck Davis

The New York Dance and Performance Awards, also known as The Bessies, mark the 30th anniversary of the annual awards when it holds its ceremony tonight (Oct. 20) at the Apollo Theater. The awards, which honor the work of independent dancers and choreographers in New York City, are named for the late teacher Bessie Schoenberg, who also served as a creative advisor to many choreographers.

Dance performances, always a highlight of The Bessies, will celebrate the 30-year history of the awards with performers representing various winners over the years. Among those scheduled to perform (and the years they won) are the Mark Morris Dance Group (1984), Urban Bush Women (1992), Jennifer Miller and Jennie Romaine (1995), and Michelle Dorrance (2011).

Chuck Davis' DanceAfrica

Chuck Davis’ DanceAfrica

The awards also annually honor luminaries in the dance world. This year’s honorees are Dance Theatre of Harlem founder Arthur Mitchell, who is to receive the Lifetime Achievement award; and DanceAfrica founder Chuck Davis, who is to receive the Service to the Field award.

While he’s receiving a Lifetime Achievement award, Mitchell, who turned 80 in March, said his career is far from over.

“I’m a little older but it’s not over. I still have things I hope to do. But it’s been a good life in the sense that people who don’t have arts in their life it’s like living in a desert. The arts ignite the mind and give you the possibility to dream.”

Arthur Mitchell as a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet

Arthur Mitchell as a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet

One thing Mitchell isn’t doing is working with the company and school he founded with Karel Shook in 1969. Mitchell said he’s had nothing to do with the organization since 2010 and when asked why, answered with a cryptic, ‘”you’d have to ask them.”

Later he added, “I think when you have a change in an organization you have to give them time to grow and stretch and so the best thing for me to do is stay away.”

Instead, Mitchell said he’s focused on sharing his years of experience as a celebrated coach and teacher.

“I’ve been teaching, coaching, looking and seeing what’s happening in the field,” he said.


Dance Theatre of Harlem

And one of the things Mitchell said he’s noticed is that the landscape for blacks in ballet still looks almost as bleak as it did when Mitchell started Dance Theatre of Harlem.

“I’m saying things I said 60 years ago. The fine arts must open up to be much more inclusive and that’s something that has to change,” he said. “There aren’t enough black teachers in the communities to teach these kids. Everyone is doing community outreach but they don’t know how to talk to the people in the community and how to keep the interest alive.

“So it’s not just opening the door but also once the door is open giving those that come in better opportunities to excel.”

Dance Theatre of Harlem image courtesy of Rachel Neville

Dance Theatre of Harlem image courtesy of Rachel Neville

But Mitchell isn’t interested in just being a wise, elder statesman of the dance world. He hinted that there will be an announcement soon about a new project of his.

Said Mitchell, “There are some things in the works I can’t discuss yet but it’s exciting. So I’m not done yet.”

—Karyn Collins


Here is a list of all the nominees for the 2014 Bessie Awards:

Outstanding Performer

Maggie Cloud
in Passagen by Pam Tanowitz

Sean Donovan 
in the work of Witness Relocation, Jane Comfort, Faye Driscoll, and others

Julia Hausermann
in Disabled Theater by Jerome Bel and Theater HORA

Sean Jackson
in We Used to Hold by Lisa LaTouche as part of Rhythm in Motion

Mickey Mahar
in the work of Miguel Gutierrez, Adrienne Truscott, Ryan McNamara, and Gillian Walsh

Angela “Angel” McNeal
For her hip hop battle improvisations at Harlem Stage E-Moves 15 Battle

Sara Mearns
New York City Ballet

Aakash Odedra
in James Brown, Get on the Good Foot, A Celebration in Dance organized and shaped by Otis Sallid as part of A Celebration in Dance at the Apollo Theater

Tiler Peck
New York City Ballet

Rebecca Serrell-Cyr
in Fire Underground by Donna Uchizono

Linda Celeste Sims
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Stuart Singer
in Within Between by John Jasperse

Outstanding Music Composition/Sound Design

Simphiwe Dana, Giuliano Modarelli, and Complete Quartet 
for Exit/Exist choreographed by Gregory Maqoma

G. Lucas Crane
for This Was the End created by Mallory Catlett

Steven Taylor
for Aubade choreographed by Douglas Dunn

Nicholas Young
for his inventive tap ‘percussion platforms’ in Rhythm in Motion

Outstanding Revival

Dark Swan
by Nora Chipaumire
The Joyce

Myth or Meth (or Maybe Moscow?)
by Radiohole
Tom Murrin Full Moon Performance Festival at La MaMa

State of Heads
by Donna Uchizono
New York Live Arts

Bach Partita
by Twyla Tharp
American Ballet Theatre

Outstanding Production

Asase Yaa African American Dance Theatre
Djembe in the New Millenium
Kumble Theater for the Performing Arts

Camille A. Brown
Produced by 651 Arts at Kumble Theater for the Performing Arts

Mallory Catlett
This Was the End
The Chocolate Factory

Liz Gerring
Montclair State University

Maria Hassabi
The Kitchen

John Jasperse
Within Between
New York Live Arts

Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker 
En Atendant/Cesena
Brooklyn Academy of Music

Akram Khan
White Light Festival

Sarah Michelson
Whitney Museum of American Art

MIMULUS Cia de Danca
The Joyce

Okwui Okpokwasili in collaboration with Peter Born
Bronx Gothic

Aki Sasamoto
Sunny in the Furnace
The Kitchen

Outstanding Visual Design

Thomas Dunn
for New Work for the Desert by Beth Gill

Avram Finkelstein, Kathy Morganroth, and Jenny Mui of YMX by Yellowman; Patricia Forelle; Tamara Gonzales; and Nicholas Vermeer, Olivia Barr, and William Ward of NYC Resistor
for Vectors, Mary, and Snow by Brooklyn Ballet

Peter Ksander, Olivera Gajic, Ryan Holsopple, Chris Kuhl, and Keith Skretch
for This Was the End by Mallory Catlett

Tim Yip
for Desh by Akram Khan

Outstanding Emerging Choreographer

Rashida Bumbray
for The Little Red Rooster in a Red House
Harlem Stages E-Moves 15

Jessica Lang
For the formation of her own company and its inaugural season
The Joyce

Jen Rosenblit
for a Natural dance
The Kitchen

Gillian Walsh
for Grinding and Equations: Two Duets at Abrons
Abrons Arts Center

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