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Meet the 2018 Bessie Nominees: Elizabeth Dement, Ryan Seaton, and Jonathan Gonzalez

Meet the 2018 Bessie Nominees: Elizabeth Dement, Ryan Seaton, and Jonathan Gonzalez

By Cecly Placenti

Published on September 28, 2018
Jonathan Gonzalez; Photo: Ian Douglas

Nominees for Outstanding Performer, Outstanding Music Composition/Sound Design, and Outstanding Production Talk Art and Inspiration with The Dance Enthusiast

As summer comes to an end, the dance scene heats up and dance fans brace themselves for the highly anticipated New York City’s Dance and Performance Awards, The Bessies.

Taking place this year on October 8 at NYU’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, the 34th Annual Bessie Awards celebrates the work of 43 nominees in five different categories: Outstanding Production, Outstanding Revived Work, Outstanding Performer, Outstanding Music Composition or Sound Design, and Outstanding Visual Design.

In the coming weeks, The Dance Enthusiast will highlight Bessie nominees: choreographic collaborators, composers, designers, and performers asking who and what does it take to create an artistic experience worthy of an illustrious Bessie?

For a full list of Bessie nominees and ticket information, go to


Meet 2018 Bessie Nominee’s Elizabeth DeMent, Ryan Seaton, and Jonathan Gonzalez:

  • Elizabeth Dement is nominated for her performance in Big Dance Theater’s 17C and is from Ukiah, California. She studied at the Juilliard School and has been working as a professional dancer in NYC for the past 20 years.
  • Ryan Seaton is a New York-based composer and multi-instrumentalist.  He's an Outstanding Music Composition/Sound Design nominee for Joanna Kotze’s What will we be like when we get thereSeaton has created sound design, horn arrangements, vocal works and electronic compositions for many acclaimed recording and performing artists including Joanna Kotze, Zsuzsa Rozsavolgyi, Lance Gries, Zenon Dance Company, Ririe Woodbury, Dark Sky, Ictus, Beth Gill and Mara Hoffman. His band, Callers, released three critically-acclaimed albums and toured internationally for several years.
  • Jonathan Gonzalez is an Outstanding Production nominee for his work ZERO. Gonzalez is a NY-based artist, performer and director and 2018-2019 LMCC Workspace Resident. His current work explores the intersections of black non-being, the nonhuman, and economics of creative production on a damaged planet.

Elizabeth Dement bends her body to the side. Her skin and hair are dyed hot pink. She wears red pants.
Elizabeth DeMent; Photo: Maria Baranova

Cecly Placenti for The Dance Enthusiast: How did your artistic journey begin?

Elizabeth DeMent: My parents were creative and fortunate. They were able to give me piano lessons and enroll me in ballet classes, and they encouraged me to dress up, put on silly plays, and dance around our living room. My mother is a visual artist and art teacher, and I grew up watching her creative process and painting with her in her studio. My father was a psychologist with a ridiculous sense of humor and a deep love of music

Ryan Seaton: I begged for piano lessons at age 4, and there was no turning back. I've been obsessed with sound my whole life.

Jonathan Gonzalez: I come from a family of creative people, but nobody followed the career path of being an artist. I remember having a lot of dance and music in my childhood and that inspired me to start thinking about making things and I made things obsessively as a child. I went to LaGuardia High School here in New York, training as a vocal major, and after watching dance every day in school I started thinking about making dances. I made my first work in 2006 for the Dance Now festival at Dance Theater Workshop.

The Dance Enthusiast : What has been the biggest challenge in your artistic journey? Your proudest moment?

DeMent: The tyranny of the body! It’s a very profound life lesson in adaptation to let go of what you used to be able to do, especially when it's such a part of your identity. 

My proudest moments are when I have the perspective to pull back from the day to day and recognize/remember how lucky I am to pursue a creative endeavor. Also, being able to play an 80-year-old woman in Christina Masciotti’s play, Social Security I genuinely didn’t think I could do it and was terrified for months. But I did it. 

Seaton: The finances of being a musician are tricky and ever-changing. I don't have a single proudest moment. I've felt incredibly grateful and proud each opening night of every show I've been a part of. I also feel overwhelmed at the end of each tour or residency I take part in.  

Gonzalez: The difficulty with making work that is about the body is that you immediately lose language. Language is really interesting to me in how it is so important for documentation in this culture. I’ve been dealing with how to frame the work in language — do I want language to legitimize the work?

Also, how to protect the work with language — to make sure the language I use inspires the work to live in a different way. I’m always trying to find a way to make the work live and breathe and continue to have a process.

Jonathan Gonzalez outstretches his arms and opens in mouth
Jonathan Gonzalez; Photo: Ian Douglas


The Dance Enthusiast: How do you begin creating art work?  

DeMent: With a warm up /spiritual practice to get into the mindset of a little kid improvising in the living room.

Seaton: I decide on a sound source/instrument to use, make sound, and react to what I hear. 

The Dance Enthusiast : What do you do when you are not making art ?

Gonzalez: I’ve been getting into farming, which is a new experience for me. I volunteer [at] Morris Campus Farm in the South Bronx that partners with elementary schools.

Farming is really meditative for me, but it is also choreography in the way you move your body and make something live. It’s been really nice to find other ways to be embodied outside the studio.

Seaton: I love being lost in places that are new to me — I love traveling. To be fair, though, I can still have that experience in NYC if I seek it out. Seeing/hearing  is always inspiring to me. If I'm not going to see art, dance or music in person in the city, I usually have headphones crammed in my ears!

The Dance Enthusiast : I love the variety in what you do to feed your artistry!  What inspires you creatively?

Gonzalez: I get inspiration from my friends. Most of my friends are creative collaborators, and we depend upon each other emotionally and professionally. They consistently challenge me to think about the work that I’m making and how it lives in the world.

Seaton: My creative 'idols' are constantly shifting. In the past year, I've fallen in love with some new music and rediscovered older favorites. Arthur Russell, Paula Temple, Yves Tumor, Genesis P-Orridge and Alan Vega have been in my ears lately. 

Joanna Kotze bends her body toward the ground while Ryan Seaton stands nearby in front of a music stand
Ryan Seaton with Joanna Kotze in What Will We Be Like When We Get There; Photo: Ian Douglas

The Dance Enthusiast : How did you come to work on your Bessie nominated project? 

Seaton: This is the second large-scale collaboration that I've done with Joanna Kotze. We were introduced by a mutual friend. Joanna lets me explore freely, and it's uncanny how often we end up landing on the same page creatively. Often, she'll send me a list of phrases, references, or abstract concepts, and I'll begin collecting musical material and writing short themes. Then we either meet up in the studio or share audio and video sketches online and go from there. 

As a musician, my sense of time and space was completely upended through working with live dancers. It's given me a sensibility that I carry into all my projects. New York is such a rewarding city to live in. I consistently and organically meet people that I get to work with! It's a source of constant inspiration, challenge and opportunity.

Gonzalez: I’ve done a lot of different works in progress showings at Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church, and they commissioned Zero. It was a return to a space that has been seminal for me, and I was trying to see the space differently to produce work that is fresh inside of this institution that I have a long history with.

I had the opportunity to be part of a series there where part of my work was to respond to a history of the church and how it was established, which included the situation of slave trafficking. Going deeper into that space allowed me to see the church in a different way, and I imagined Zero as a way to activate that particular history of subjected black bodies, produce something celebratory, close a chapter of my  history and begin somewhere new.

The point is to arrive at zero, to restart.

DeMent: I came to Big Dance Theater after I had quit dancing for a year. I was in the throes of a back spasm, really questioning life decisions, and asking myself if there was any company that I could belong in. I had seen the name Big Dance Theater somewhere, but I had never seen their work. I went to the website and within 15 minutes I was calling their phone number. I left a very awkward message and Annie-b replied saying ‘we don’t really audition, but are you an actor type or a dancer-type?’

Flash forward a year or so — I was in a company called OtherShore and Annie-b and Paul Lazar came and created a piece for us called snow falls in the winter.  And that was it.

The Dance Enthusiast : What's next?

DeMent: Working on a few new exciting pieces and projects with Annie-b for 2019!

Seaton: In addition to restaging What Will We Be Like When We Get There, Joanna and I are in the beginning stages of a new project. I'm also working with Tunisian-born singer/songwriter Emel Mathlouthi on new music. 

Gonzalez: Preparing to premiere a piece called Lucifer Landing in the spring of 2019. It's inspired by my farming work  and a lot of the things I’m sitting with in my life right now.

The Dance Enthusiast Asks Questions and Creates Conversation.
For more of The Dance Enthusiast Asks, click here, including TDE ASKS 2018 Bessies Nominees: Part I.
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