The whole affair was dreamed up and engineered (with a little help from his friends) by the energetic director of New York’s innovative Dance Theatre Workshop, but, as emcee Bill Irwin assured the audience at the first annual New York Dance and Performance Awards ceremony Sept. 13, the prizes will not be known as “The David Whities.” No, their official nickname is the Bessies, for the near-legendary teacher Bessie Schonberg, chairperson emeritus of the dance department at Sarah Lawrence College and mentor to more than one generation of New York choreographers and performance artists Schönberg’s glowing presence, and the two namesake awards she presented—for sustained achievement to Postmodern pioneers David Gordon and Trisha Brown—infused the event with a genuine sense of history and pointed up its best achievement: the clear-cut recognition that, for all their diversity, the “independent artists working in the fields of dance and related performance in New York City” constitute a single, powerfully creative family.
It’s hardly a close-knit family, of course, as evidenced by the wildly varied work of the young choreographers and performers who received nine $1,600 cash awards (compliments of grants from Morgan Guaranty Trust Company and, for the event itself, American Express). Stephanie Skura’s Artbusiness, excerpted for the ceremony, is a sly and funny send-up of the arts panel process; the duo Eiko and Koma make grim, post-apocalypse movement pieces; experimentor Anne Bogart recently doctored South Pacific with sex role reversals and political overlays; Yoshiko Chuma and her School of Hard Knocks sometimes dance in the streets. The common notes among these winners, and many of their contemporaries, are audacity, a freewheeling creativity, and a forthright rejection of the conventional categories of theatrical arts.
All in all, 28 Bessies were presented for choreography, performance, lighting design, visual design, music and film and television. The mood was highly emotional—there were tumultuous ovations for Twyla Tharp Company dancer Sara Rudner (who declared, by way of thanks for her performance award, “I’m here—my body is yours!”) as well as for Schönberg, Gordon and Brown—and the fast-paced ceremony at the Joyce Theatre was punctuated with some stunning performances by dancer-clown Irwin, dancer-juggler Michael Moschen, a grass-skirted delegation from The Wooster Group and others.
Teens in Crisis
Liza Balkan, one of the nine-member cast of Periwinkle Productions’ Halfway There, envisions a life free of the tragic consequences of drug abuse. A teenage playwright, a professional playwright, ex-drug addicts and recovered alcoholics collaborated on the creation of the hour-long drama, which is currently touring the U.S. Periwinkle, based in Monticello, N.Y, is in its 22nd year of touring theatre for young audiences, and has received citations for its new production from the U.S. House Select Committee on Narcotic Abuse and Control. Halfway There will travel in coming weeks to Arkansas, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Florida and North Carolina.
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