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DANCE NEWS: The Bessies Celebrated Artists and Arts Workers at the 36th Annual New York Dance and Performance Awards in a Virtual Ceremony

DANCE NEWS: The Bessies Celebrated Artists and Arts Workers at the 36th Annual New York Dance and Performance Awards in a Virtual Ceremony

Published on December 15, 2020
Heather Robles/Lucy Sexton by AK47 Division

The 36th Annual NY Dance and Performance Awards, The Bessies, reconceived this year to honor all of the 2019/20 nominated artists, took place tonight as a virtual ceremony. In acknowledgement of the artists who were unable to present their work this past season due to the pandemic, The Bessies decided to forego giving individual awards this year. The Bessies recognized three Lifetime Achievement in Dance and four Service to the Field of Dance honorees. A special citation was also presented at the virtual event.

Dance world luminaries Masazumi Chaya, Bill Irwin, Virginia Johnson, Ralph Lemon, Bebe Miller, Bebe Neuwirth, and Jawole Willa Jo Zollar welcomed artists and supporters of the New York dance community who had gathered to celebrate the honorees.

The 2020 Lifetime Achievement in Dance Honorees are Arthur Avilés and Charles Rice-GonzálezLouis Johnson, and Mary Overlie. The Service to the Field of Dance Honorees are Harkness Center for Dance InjuriesIshmael Houston-JonesShannon Hummel, and Peter Richards. The special citation was presented to Jacqulyn Buglisi for Table of Silence.

Service to the Field Bessies
SERVICE TO  THE FIELD AWARDEES: From clockwise left: Shannon Hummel, Peter Richards, Harkness Center for Dance Injuries, Ishmael Houston-Jones

Nominees for Outstanding Production, Outstanding Performer, Outstanding Breakout Choreographer, Outstanding Revival, Outstanding Music Composition/Sound Design, and Outstanding Visual Design—all announced in advance—were also honored during the ceremony. All of the nominated artists received a $500 honorarium, courtesy of a grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

The celebratory evening also included a special tribute to frontline and essential workers. The Bessies saluted the independent artists and organizations who quickly mobilized to support and advocate for dance and dancers during this challenging time. A tribute thanking arts workers who work behind the scenes and are central to making live and online performance happen in New York was also included. The evening included excerpts from performances by BaKari I. Lindsay and André M. Zachary.

The Bessies also honored those who died this past year. The In Memoriam segment was presented to music by Paul Jared Newman, who passed away this year.

2020 LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT IN DANCE HONOREES: from left clockwise  Louis Johnson, Arthur Avilés and Charles Rice-González, and Mary Overlie

Presenters throughout the evening included Leslie Cuyjet, Jasmine Hearn, Dianne McIntyre, Louis Mofsie, Joan Myers Brown, Dyane Harvey-Salaam and Abdel Salaam, Alice Sheppard, Conrad Tao and Caleb Teicher, Mariana Valencia, Constance Valis Hill, and other visionary leaders including devynn emory, Alejandra Duque Cifuentes, George Emilio Sanchez, Andrea Snyder, Quita Sullivan, Candace Thompson-Zachery, and Charmaine Warren.

In addition to recognizing all of the honorees, it was announced during the ceremony that Bessies Managing Director and Producer Heather Robles, who has been with the organization for 11 years, has been named its new Executive Director starting on January 1, 2021.

The ceremony was preceded by The Bessies Angel Reception honoring former Bessies Executive Director Lucy Sexton for her vision and leadership for so many years.

The celebration continued at The Virtual Bessies Afterparty.

The Bessies Ceremony will be broadcast in early 2021 on WNET’s ALL ARTS, an unprecedented new broadcast channel, streaming platform, and website dedicated to arts and culture 24/7.

The citations for all of the 2020 nominated artists and honorees can also be found HERE.

Table of Silence in Lincoln Center
Jacqulyn Buglisi's Table of Silence; photo Terri Gold

The 2020 Bessie Nominees/Honorees

Outstanding Production

Kimberly Bartosik for through the mirror of their eyes at New York Live Arts

Monica Bill Barnes and Robert Saenz de Viteri for Days Go By at Brookfield Place New York

Brother(hood) Dance! for Afro/Solo/Man at Gibney

Ayodele Casel and Arturo O’Farrill for Ayodele Casel + Arturo O’Farrill at The Joyce Theater

a canary torsi/Yanira Castro for Last Audience at New York Live Arts

Yoshiko Chuma for My Diary: Secret Journey to Tipping Utopia at The Invisible Dog

Colin Dunne for Concert at Baryshnikov Arts Center

Gregory Vuyani Maqoma for Cion: Requiem of Ravel’s Bolero at The Joyce Theater

Annie-B Parson for American Utopia at Hudson Theatre

jumatatu m. poe and Jermone “Donte” Beacham for Let ‘im Move You: This Is a Formation at Abrons Art Center

Amanda Szeglowski for this is now, and now, and now. at JACK

Outstanding Performer

Oluwadamilare Ayorinde in A.D. and Colored by Kyle Marshall at BAM Fisher

Grupo de Rua in Inoah by Bruno Beltraõ/Grupo de Rua at Brooklyn Academy of Music

Burr Johnson in through the mirror of their eyes by Kimberly Bartosik at New York Live Arts

Wataru Kitao in The Unknown Dancer in the Neighborhood by Suguru Yamamoto for The Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival 2020 at Japan Society

Huwer Anthony Marche Jr. (“King Havoc”) in LayeRhythm Jam at Nublu

Shannon Nash in Community Exercises for Sanctuary Spaces by Brendan Drake at The Brick

Emily Pope in My Diary: Secret Journey to Tipping Utopia by Yoshiko Chuma at The Invisible Dog

Annique Roberts for Sustained Achievement in the work of Ronald K. Brown/EVIDENCE

Myssi Robinson in Colored by Kyle Marshall at BAM Fisher

Bijayini Satpathy in Kalpana – the world of Imagination by Kelucharan Mohapatra and Surupa Sen presented by Drive East Festival at A.R.T. New York Theatre

Hu Shenyuan in Under Siege by Yang Liping at David H. Koch Theater

Omari Wiles in Odeon by Ephrat Asherie at The Joyce Theater

Breakout Choreographer

Gemma Bond

Tess Dworman

It’s Showtime NYC

Gabrielle Revlock

Breakout choreographers Bessies 2020
BREAKOUT CHOREOGRAPHERS: from top left clockwise: Gemma Bond by Jon Ragel, It's Showtime NYC by Maria Baranova, Tess Dworman by Brian Rogers, Gabrielle Revlock by Jonathan Hsu


Outstanding Revival

Busk by Aszure Barton performed by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at New York City Center

Colored by Kyle Marshall at BAM Fisher

From The Horse’s Mouth, various works, by Jamie Cunningham and Tina Croll/Horse’s Mouth honoring the 75th anniversary of the Jerome Robbins Dance Division at 14th Street Y

Monuments: Echoes in the Dance Archive by Adam Weinert at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

Outstanding Sound Design/Musical Composition

Quran Karriem for Soundz at the Back of My Head by Thomas F. DeFrantz/Slippage at Gibney

Nhlanhla Mahlangu and Ntuthuko Mbuyazi for Cion: Requiem of Ravel’s Bolero by Gregory Maqoma/Vuyani Dance Theater at The Joyce Theater

Stephan Moore for Last Audience by a canary torsi/Yanira Castro at New York Live Arts

Nioka Workmannia love, and Antoine Roney for g1(host):lostatsea by nia love at Gibney

Outstanding Visual Design

Peter Born (Set and Lighting Design) for Sitting on a Man’s Head by Okwui Okpokwasili and Peter Born at Danspace Project

Liam O’Brien & Kelly Hanson (Costume and Scenic Design), Mary Ellen Stebbins and Jane Cox (Lighting Design) for Days Go By by Monica Bill Barnes and Robert Saenz de Viteri at Brookfield Place New York

Ricarrdo Valentine and Orlando Zane Hunter (Video) for Afro/Solo/Man by Brother(hood) Dance! at Gibney

Tim Yip (Visual Director and Set) and Beili Liu (Installation) for Under Siege by Yang Liping Contemporary Dance at David H. Koch Theater

OUTSTANDING VISUAL DESIGN: from clockwise left: Ricarrdo Valentine and Orlando Zane Hunter by Scott Shaw, Sitting on a Man's Head, photo by Ian Douglas, Tim Yip Studio, and Days Go By, photo by Paula Lobo

The 2020 Bessie Awards Steering Committee, responsible for setting policy and providing oversight for the Bessie Awards throughout the year, is comprised of Cora Cahan, Judy Hussie-Taylor, Jeanne Linnes, Stanford Makishi, Nicky Paraiso, Carla Peterson, Craig Peterson, Gus Solomons jr, Paz Tanjuaquio, Laurie Uprichard, Charmaine Warren, Martin Wechsler, and Eva Yaa Asantewaa.

The 2019–2020 Bessie Awards Selection Committee: Ronald Alexander, MFA, Maria Baranova-Suzuki, Elise Bernhardt, Charles Vincent Burwell, Diana Byer, Michele Byrd-McPhee, Tymberly Canale, MFA, Boo Froebel, Angela Fatou Gittens, Ph.D, Diane Grumet, Mai Lê Hô, Iréne Hultman, Celia Ipiotis, Koosil-ja, Nicole Mannarino, Jessica Massart, Craig Peterson, Pam Pietro, Rajika Puri, Tiffany Rea-Fisher, Susan Reiter, George Emilio Sanchez, E. Gaynell Sherrod, Ed.D, Andrea Snyder, Dr. Sally R. Sommer, Risa Steinberg, Carrie Stern, Ph.D., Ivan Talijancic, Catherine Tharin, Philip Treviño, Muna Tseng, Tony Waag, William Whitener, Sangeeta Ghosh Yesley, and Dr. Layla Zami.


The NY Dance and Performance Awards have saluted outstanding and groundbreaking creative work in the dance field in New York City for 36 years. Known as “The Bessies” in honor of revered dance teacher Bessie Schönberg, the awards were established in 1984 by David R. White at Dance Theater Workshop. They recognize outstanding work in choreography, performance, music composition, and visual design. Nominees are chosen by a selection committee composed of artists, presenters, producers, and writers. All those working in the dance field are invited to join the NY Dance and Performance League as members and participate in annual discussions on the direction of the awards and nominate members to serve on the selection committee.


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