If you’re a huge dance nerd like I am, getting to attend last night’s Bessie Awards at the Apollo Theater would be an actual dream come true for you, too. Where else can you hobnob with dance celebrities (and, if you’re me, surreptitiously attempt to take selfies with them blissfully unaware in the background), watch amazing, live dance performances by contemporary choreographers and get to see New York City’s top dance honors handed out in front of a cheering crowd? The New York Times wasn’t kidding when it termed this awards ceremony “the Academy Awards of dance.” This year, the Apollo’s lobby featured a step-and-repeat for nominees and presenters to have their photos taken by the paparazzi and schmooze glamorously.
The New York Dance and Performance Awards (nicknamed the “Bessies” in honor of revered teacher and choreographer Bessie Schonberg) handed out a total of 16 awards last night, as 1,100 attendees looked on. Former Cunningham dancer (and quite spiffily dressed) Gus Solomons jr co-hosted the evening with the always elegant Martine van Hamel, former principal with American Ballet Theatre. I was especially thrilled to see Third Rail Projects take home a Bessie for Outstanding Production for their immersive dance theater show Then She Fell. Creators Zach Morris, Tom Pearson and Jennine Willett use both dance and text to create a dreamscape based on Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, and they were endearingly excited about their award—they insisted on recognizing the entire cast in the audience. I was pleased to see the ballet world included, too: ABT star Herman Cornejo (Be still, my heart!) took home an Outstanding Performer Bessie for his work in the pieces of Alexei Ratmansky, Mark Morris and Twyla Tharp. I saw him toss off more than a few effortless pirouettes in Morris’ Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes at ABT’s gala last fall—his award is well-deserved.
Several DT favorites were honored, too. Charles “Lil Buck” Riley and Ron “Prime Tyme” Myles won an Outstanding Performance Bessie for their piece at Le Poisson Rouge. And Luigi received the Lifetime Achievement award, which was thoughtfully presented to him by his former student, Broadway legend Donna McKechnie.
Top two photos by AK47Division; bottom photo by Christopher Duggan. All are courtesy of In The Lights/The Bessies.