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DANCE NEWS: These Are the Winners of the 2023 Bessie Awards

DANCE NEWS: These Are the Winners of the 2023 Bessie Awards

Published on August 6, 2023
Twyla Tharp's "In The Upper Room." Photo by Benjamin Miller

The Recipients Were Announced at the 39th Bessie Awards Ceremony on Friday, August 4, 2023

The New York Dance and Performance Awards, the Bessies, announced the 2023 award recipients last night at the 39th Bessie Awards Ceremony. The Illustrious Blacks hosted this year’s celebratory event, which was held at Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Park as part of Lincoln Center’s Summer for the City. A complete list of the 2023 awards follows below.

Bessie Awards were presented to artists for outstanding choreographer/creator, performer, sound design/music composition, visual design, outstanding revival, and breakout choreographer—an award that honors an artist who has made an exceptional leap in their career this past year. All of the awardees and nominated artists in these categories received a $500 honorarium, courtesy of a grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

Renowned dancer, singer, and actor Dionne Figgins presented Virginia Johnson with the 2023 Award for Lifetime Achievement in Dance. Artists and dance advocates Porshia A. Derival and Ms Vee presented Michele Byrd-McPhee with the 2023 Award for Outstanding Service to the Field of Dance. Other presenters included Tyler Ashley, Clifton Brown, George Faison, Erin Fogerty, Dyane Harvey Salaam, Karisma Jay, Gian Marco Riccardo Lo Forte, Abdel Salaam, and Paz Tanjuaquio.

Barkha Patel was honored with the 2023 Juried Bessie Award, selected by the 2023 Bessie Jury luciana achugar, Ayodele Casel, and Kyle Marshall. The Juried Award recognizes a choreographer who exhibits some of the most interesting and exciting ideas in dance in New York City today, and whose work deserves to be seen more outside the city. The award comes with touring support and other engagement opportunities from New York State DanceForce.

The evening also included special remarks from Vicky Capote of Dance/NYC, Alton Murray, Deputy Commissioner, NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, Lucy Sexton, Executive Director, New Yorkers for Culture and Arts, and Bessies Executive Director Heather Robles.

The ceremony included an audience participation dance tribute to O’Shae Sibley. Dance Theatre of Harlem performed Orange, a duet by Stanton Welch, in honor of Virginia Johnson. Fredrick Earl Mosley’s Unbroken, performed by his company Diversity of Dance was also presented, along with an excerpt from Princess Lockeroo’s The Fabulous Waack Dancers Big Show, and Afro-Acro, performed by AbunDancers Youth Ensemble.

The Bessies also honored members of the dance community who died this past year. The moving In Memoriam was presented by dancers Mireicy Aquino and Jhailyn Farcon.

The celebration continued at the Bessies Silent Disco After-Party with DJ Sabine Blaizin on Lincoln Center’s Josie Robertson Plaza.

The 2023 Bessie Awards Ceremony was produced by Torya Beard and Heather Robles.



Dressed in a black and purple top with circle patterns, Virginia Johnson directly faces the camera; photo by Theik Smith


Virginia Johnson

For inspiring audiences for 28 years with dynamic performances as a founding member and principal dancer of Dance Theatre of Harlem. For her tenure as Artistic Director of Dance Theatre of Harlem, continuing the company’s legacy of innovation and excellence, while expanding its reach and impact through collaborations with other organizations. For founding Pointe Magazine, and serving as editor-in-chief for nearly a decade. For editorial vision, bringing diverse voices and perspectives to the forefront of the dance community. For a lifelong commitment to the arts, and a career of significant contributions to the world of dance as a celebrated dancer, editor, and artistic director.

Michele Byrd-McPhee crouches in front of the camera, smiling wide with fingers spread in front of her eyes. She wears all white and her sweatshirt reads “KNOWLEDGE RESPECT AUTHENTICITY & COMMUNITY"; photo courtesy of the artist



Michele Byrd-McPhee

For being an incredible force in the global dance community, especially as an advocate for young girls and women in hip-hop. As the Founder and Executive Director of Ladies of Hip-Hop, Byrd- McPhee has worked for decades to recontextualize spaces and conversations about hip-hop along gender, cultural, socio-historical, and racial lines. Her vision for women of all generations in hip-hop has created opportunities for them to perform on concert dance stages, teach in the most prestigious dance institutions, and create incredible opportunities for themselves within hip-hop’s legacy.


Benjamin Akio Kimitch’s Tiger Hands starring Julie McMillan Castellano, Pareena Lim, and Lai Yi Ohlsen at The Shed; photo by Heather Cromartie


LaTasha Barnes

LaTasha Barnes presents The Jazz Continuum at The Joyce Theater

A joyous celebration of jazz dance throughout history, Barnes flexes the imposed proscenium setting to engage a communal experience, demonstrating community as the center of this form. An offering of (re)embodiment to the audience, this work showcases seamless transitions between styles, demonstrating technical mastery from the cast and deep creativity and thoughtfulness from its creator.



Dormeshia Tap Collective: Rhythm Is Life at The Joyce Theater

For crafting stellar interplay between movement, sound, performer, and improvisation. Deeply human, rooted in tradition and joy, Dormeshia shows us where tap dance has been, where it is, and where it is going.


Benjamin Akio Kimitch

Tiger Hands at The Shed

For a beautiful work with an extraordinarily sensitive exploration of personal and cultural identity. The work creates an entirely new movement vocabulary that holds resonant memories of traditional Peking opera dance forms, and is embedded with shimmering novelty in tribute to a beloved mother.


Omari Wiles

New York Is Burning at Works & Process at The Guggenheim

For a beautiful representation of intergenerational Black experiences that pays homage to the dancers and artists from the classic documentary Paris Is Burning. This work is a gorgeously joyous, queer collection of dance and music stories. As a timeless tribute, it highlights the Afro Dance, House, Vogue, and Ballroom communities, their current cultural relevance, and prioritizes the diversity of dancers’ bodies, bringing out the power within Black dance and music.

Albert Silindokuhle Ibokwe Khoza sits onstage in a chair surrounded by fabric, holding a mirror and facing away from the audience. Two images of Albert’s face are on the wall in front of them, painted with red, white and black accents; photos courtesy of the artist


j. bouey

In A Message from Mx. Black Copper by j. bouey at Movement Research at the Judson Church

For an exhilarating performance embodying Black joy. This work is an exploration of emotion and movement that evokes love, trauma, honesty, and progression. The performance was thoughtful, unapologetic, and celebratory of life, self, and ancestry.


Amanda Castro

In Ayodele Casel: Chasing Magic by Ayodele Casel at The Joyce Theater

Castro’s performance capacity and arresting stage presence offer playfulness, dynamism, and mastery, particularly in the connection between percussionist and dancer. Her clear delineation in performance teaches the audience about Afro-Latin influences and intrinsic tap rhythms, with a demonstrated fluency in many styles.


Joyce Edwards

In Grace, The Equality of Night and Day and Open Door by Ronald K. Brown at The Joyce Theater

For bringing presence and identity into an exquisite embodiment of Ronald K. Brown’s work. Edwards exudes irrefutable strength, depth, warmth, reverence, conviction, and connection.


Albert Silindokuhle Ibokwe Khoza

In And so you see… our honorable blue sky and ever enduring sun… can only be consumed slice by slice… by Robyn Orlin at New York Live Arts

A uniquely bombastic, outrageous, and gorgeous performance that transcends genres, this is an unforgettably commanding performance that reveals deeper truths.


Twyla Tharp's In The Upper Room; photo by Benjamin Miller, courtesy of New York City Center


In The Upper Room (1986/2022)

By Twyla Tharp at New York City Center

For a masterfully crafted and timeless work of dance art. In the Upper Room synthesizes choreography, costumes, music, and lighting into a transcendent experience for both audience and performers. The compelling score intersects with the bold choreography, creating an experience of raw power and grace.


The Jazz Continuum by LaTasha Barnes; photo courtesy of the artist


Charles Turner and Sean Mason for The Jazz Continuum by LaTasha Barnes at The Joyce Theater

For a New York City sonic dream of musical arrangement that pays tribute to the eras of Black music from authentic jazz to hip-hop classics. The audience is brilliantly taken on a rollercoaster of musical nostalgia that makes one want to cry, dance, and move with joy! From the piano keys to the DJ turntables, and from the jazz clubs of Harlem to the playgrounds of Brooklyn, the arrangement is a true delight showing the magic of The Jazz Continuum.


Dimitris Papaioannou's Transverse Orientation; photo by Julian Mommert


Tina Tzoka & Loukas Bakas (Set Design), Stephanos Droussiotis (Lighting Design), Nektarios Dionysatos (Sculptures and Special Constructions), Dimitris Korres (Mechanical Inventions) for Transverse Orientation by Dimitris Papaioannou at the Brooklyn Academy of Music

For a team of designers who create scenes beyond what people might think is possible, and leave them gasping in awe. The team is the ‘David Copperfield’ of the field, possessing wide imaginative abilities that create the magic and make-believe of the theater.

Symara Johnson in Symara and her Lasso, in which she uses the iconic cowboy accoutrement to connect with and explore her family lineage in the U.S. West and South; photo by Olga Rabetskaya


Symara Johnson

For deeply personal and profoundly joyful movement research with a choreographic practice based in American and West Indian heritage. For merging movement practices with rigorous archival research which calls for being in the present moment. For a creation of space within this practice for engagement of many ideas generated on the spot, and the ability to move between them with abandonment.

Barkha Patel against the bright blue background of an open sky and ancient ruins; photo copyright of the artist


Barkha Patel

For elegantly and magnificently creating, educating, and sharing work that elevates classical Indian and Kathak dance. Patel is deeply rooted in her art form’s spiritual and cultural history and is a contemporary voice who will contribute to the evolution of Kathak dance and its place in the dance world at large.

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