The Bessies announce 2017 recipients

2017 NY Dance and Performance AwardsThe NY Dance and Performance Awards, The Bessies, New York City’s premier dance awards honoring outstanding creative work in the field, announced the complete list of the 2017 award recipients at the 33rd Annual Bessie Awards Ceremony on Monday.


Awards were presented in the categories of Outstanding Production, Outstanding Revival, Outstanding Performer, Outstanding Music Composition/Sound Design, and Outstanding Visual Design, with additional awards presented for Lifetime Achievement in Dance and Outstanding Service to the Field of Dance. (The full list of 2017 Bessie Award recipients follows.)


The 33rd Annual Bessie Awards were held at NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts at 7:30 p.m. on October 9, following red carpet interviews and preshow celebrations. Lucy Sexton, executive director of the NY Dance and Performance Awards, and Lane Harwell, executive director of Dance/NYC, gave opening remarks. Acclaimed dancers Shernita Anderson and James Whiteside hosted the ceremony.


The evening included performances by choreographer/dancer Jawole Willa Jo Zollar (recipient of the 2017 Bessie for Lifetime Achievement in Dance), the Trisha Brown Dance Company and a musical tribute to Baba Chuck Davis by Abdel Salaam and Forces of Nature Dance Theatre.


Choreographer and dance legend Dianne McIntyre presented Jawole Willa Jo Zollar with the 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award. Choreographer and scholar Thomas DeFrantz presented writer Eva Yaa Asantewaa with the 2017 award for Outstanding Service to the Field of Dance.


Other presenters included Reid Bartelme, Paul Bartlett, Yanira Castro, Gray Davis, Lauren Grant, Carl Hancock Rux, Jerron Herman, Pamela Sneed and Cassandra Trenary.




Jawole Willa Jo Zollar

“For forming Urban Bush Women in 1984 and bringing to the stage a complex, bold and affirming vision of the African Diaspora. For transforming and diversifying the field by developing new ways of training, curating, connecting and lifting up generations of choreographers of color. For a visionary life both on the stage and in the world.”



Eva Yaa Asantewaa

“For her capacity to reflect, contextualize and discern dance work, providing an urgent and necessary voice for dance artists and their varied practices. For her work as writer, educator, mentor and activist over many decades in print, radio and online. For strengthening the city’s arts community as an important witness, an intentional healer and a mindful presence.”



Art Bridgman and Myrna Packer Bridgman|Packer Dance for Voyeur at the Sheen Center

“For groundbreaking use of video in live performance, creating a space where virtual and actual movement merged. For inhabiting Edward Hopper’s imagery and taking the audience on an inventive journey of private spaces and ever-shifting viewpoints.”


Antony Hamilton for Meeting at La MaMa with Performance Space 122, COIL 2017

“For obsessive, precise choreography that synthesized two men’s movements with a circle of robots’ percussive tapping into a mesmerizing whole. For a work both abstract and profoundly human.”


Ligia Lewis for minor matter at American Realness with Lumberyard Contemporary Performing Arts at Abrons Arts Center

“For interrogating the social inscriptions on the black body within the frame of the black box. Moving with the logic of interdependence, three dancers push against the theater’s physical space transforming it into a visceral world pulsing with love and rage.”


Taylor Mac for A 24-Decade History of Popular Music at St. Ann’s Warehouse with Pomegranate Arts

“For an epic, tireless and bold 24-hour performance that generated thought and action through the deep investigation of music’s role in our common humanity. A carefully curated concert featuring 246 songs, extravagant visual transformations and a community-creating ritual of hope.”


Abdel Salaam for Healing Sevens with Forces of Nature Dance Theatre, Asase Yaa African American Dance Theatre, Illstyle & Peace Productions, and Dyane Harvey Salaam at DanceAfrica, BAM Howard Gilman Opera House

“For the combined efforts of three stellar companies using West African, hip-hop, and modern dance forms to find new ways of storytelling, new ways to deliver healing truths. For exploring how multiple generations of a community can look within to resolve conflict and violence”



Ishmael Houston-Jones, Miguel Gutierrez, Nick Hallett and Jennifer Monson for Variations on Themes from Lost and Found: Scenes From a Life and Other Works by John Bernd at Danspace Project’s Platform 2016: Lost and Found

“For channeling the artistic vision of John Bernd, whose narrative, along with those so many others, was cut short by AIDS. For shepherding a young cast into communion with the spirit of the work. For responding to, reimagining and restoring a missing chapter of our creative history.”



PeiJu Chien-Pott in Martha Graham’s Ekstasis, reimagined by Virginie Mécéne, Martha Graham Dance Company at The Joyce Theater

“For bringing to life a lost Martha Graham solo from 1933, masterfully inhabiting the earthy, percussive and fluid movements of pelvis and torso, and embodying the very essence of Graham’s ecstatic vision.”


Anna Schön for Sustained Achievement in the work of Reggie Wilson’s Fist & Heel Performance Group

“A bold presence and generous performer who moves with raw emotion and lightning speed while remaining sensitive to and connected with her fellow dancers. A deeply spiritual dancer who brings utter conviction to every performance.”


Ensemble of the skeleton architecture, or the future of our worlds: Maria Bauman, Sidra Bell, Davalois Fearon, Marjani Forté-Saunders, Melanie Greene, Kayla Hamilton, Jasmine Hearn, Marguerite Hemmings, Nia Love, Paloma McGregor, Sydnie L. Mosley, Rakiya Orange, Grace Osborne, Leslie Parker, Angie Pittman, Samantha Speis, Charmaine Warren, Marýa Wethers, Ni’Ja Whitson and others*

Curated by Eva Yaa Asantewaa for Danspace Project’s Platform 2016: Lost and Found

“For a history-in-the-making performance that dismantled improvisational dance norms to create a robust, disruptive and dynamic world. For a cast of individuals who used a full range of movement styles to take the audience from Dakar to Kingston, the Bronx to Bushwick, in a fluid dance of connection.”

*Edisa Weeks and Tara Aisha Willis were also in the cast but are ineligible as they serve on the Bessie Selection Committee.


Daaimah Taalib-Din for Sustained Achievement with Forces of Nature Dance Theatre

“A chameleon of dance styles from traditional African to contemporary African Diasporic forms. A dynamic presence in every work in which she dances, moving from highly stylized to smoothly nuanced with impeccable grace and technique.”



Alisdair Macindoe for Meeting by Antony Hamilton at La MaMa with Performance Space 122, COIL 2017

“For creating a complex percussive score using 64 tiny robots armed with tapping pencils. For adding the virtuosic rhythms of two dancers slapping hands and reciting numbers to create a unique soundscape that was both relentless and strangely satisfying.”



Taylor Mac (creator), Niegel Smith (director), Machine Dazzle (costume), Mimi Lien (set), John Torres (lights), Eric Avery (puppetry), Jawole Willa Jo Zollar (choreography) for A 24-Decade History of Popular Music at St. Ann’s Warehouse with Pomegranate Arts

“For a thoroughly considered and painstakingly crafted visual experience revealed over 24-hours and 24-decades of American history. For a complex, complementary and immersive mix of scenography, costumes, lighting, puppets and crowd control which transformed a concert into a sublime engagement of all the senses.”


Two awards were presented in July at the 2017 Bessie Awards press conference. The 2017 Emerging Choreographer Award went to Will Rawls for creating astute, genre-eluding work that explores the relationship between movement and language and delves deeply into ideas of transmission, translation and authorship; and for his multifaceted artistry as choreographer, writer, editor and curator, expanding the presence of dance and performance.


This year’s Juried Bessie Award went to Abby Zbikowski for her rigorous and utterly unique development of an authentic movement vocabulary, employed in complex and demanding structures to create dances of great energy, intensity, surprise and danger. The 2017 Bessies Jury was comprised of Kyle Abraham, Brenda Bufalino and Beth Gill.


To find out more about The Bessies, visit


Photo: 2017 Bessie nominees onstage. Photo by AK47 Division.