Misty Copeland at the Dance Magazine Awards: "Dance Unifies, So Let's Get to Work"
What does it mean to be human? Well, many things. But if you were at the Dance Magazine Awards last night, you could argue that to be human is to dance. Speeches about the powerful humanity of our art form were backed up with performances by incredible dancers hailing from everywhere from Hubbard Street Dance Chicago to Miami City Ballet.
Misty Copeland started off the celebration. A self-professed "Dance Magazine connoisseur from the age of 13," she not only spoke about how excited she was to be in a room full of dancers, but also—having just come from Dance Theatre of Harlem's memorial for Arthur Mitchell—what she saw as their duty: "We all in this room hold a responsibility to use this art for good," she said. "Dance unifies, so let's get to work."
That sentiment was repeated throughout the night.
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Michael Trusnovec and Parisa Khobdeh in an excerpt from Paul Taylor's Promethean Fire. Photo by Christopher Duggan.
After giving a luminous performance of Paul Taylor's Promethean Fire with Parisa Khobdeh, Michael Trusnovec admitted that it might have been a "crazy idea" for him to choose to dance right before accepting his award. (For the record, we asked him to. Or, more accurately, we gave him the option in the hopes that he'd perform.) But he explained that he'd agreed to perform because dancing is "why I'm here—standing here—but also why I'm here, in general."
Most moving was when Trusnovec, a paragon of cool, collected strength, choked up when talking about what it feels like to know that there will no longer be any more "Taylor-made dances," sharing—in the most heartfelt way—what it's meant to him to have taken part in Taylor's genius.
Hubbard Street's Andrew Murdock and Michael Gross performed an excerpt of Crystal Pite's The Other You. Photo by Christopher Duggan.
In accepting her award, Crystal Pite told a story that most of us had never heard before: In the late 1970s, her mother and a friend traveled five hours by bus and ferry to see the Ailey company perform in Vancouver. When they got back to their room at the Holiday Inn, they spent the night reenacting their own version of Revelations.
Her mom's description of Judith Jamison sparked Pite's desire to dance. Later, when she was 13 or 14, Pite made her first solo for herself, and her mom sewed the costume: A long-sleeved white leotard and a floor-length white skirt with ruffles at the bottom. "I spent hours alone in the studio trying to channel the spirit of Judith Jamison and Alvin Ailey." It was what made her want to be a choreographer.
Last night, since she was coming to the house of Ailey, Pite brought along a photo of herself in that solo to give to Jamison. After the party, she sat on the floor of the studio in a second position straddle, writing a personal note to go along with it. Watching this insanely talented icon of our field pen a handwritten note to her idol (and how giddily excited she was to do it) reminded me of just how much dance artists can move each other, even when they don't realize it.
Crystal Pite holds up her photo of herself as a young teenager in the first solo she ever choreographed, in which she channelled the spirit of Judith Jamison. She brought it to give to Jamison herself, along with a personal note.
Raja Feather Kelly and Ephrat "Bounce" Asherie
Raja Feather Kelly and Ephrat "Bounce" Asherie accept their Harkness Promise Awards. Photo by Christopher Duggan.
The two Harkness Promise Awardees, Raja Feather Kelly and Ephrat "Bounce" Asherie, brought a blast of enthusiastic energy to the stage to accept their awards, which grant them each $5,000 and 40 hours of studio space. They gave a short joint speech, promising "we won't let you down."
Miami City Ballet's Tricia Albertson and Renan Cerdeiro performed an excerpt from George Balanchine's A Midsummer Night's Dream in honor of Lourdes Lopez. Photo by Christopher Duggan.
Until she said it, I had never realized that Lourdes Lopez was the first Latina principal dancer at New York City Ballet and is the only Latina artistic director of a major American ballet company. With her incredible poise and eloquence, she reminded us of the power of dance: "It widens your world, it broadens your perspective. It teaches you about life and how to live it," she said. "Dance is everlasting and all-inclusive, and all we have to do is serve it."
Ronald K. Brown
Ron Brown spoke about how dance has drawn him back to the studio over and over throughout his life. Photo by Christopher Duggan.
In presenting the award to Ronald K. Brown, his dancer and associate artistic director Arcell Cabuag spoke about how Brown's dances "take us away from technology and all the nonsense, and reminds us how human we are, and how much we all have in common." Having just watched Annique Roberts soulfully perform Brown's She Is Here, which seemed to heat up the theater with her incredible warmth, we knew exactly what he was talking about.
Members of Gallim, which has performed at Nigel Redden's Spoleto Festival USA multiple times, performed an excerpt from Andrea Miller's Stone Skipping in tribute to him. Photo by Christopher Duggan.
The last award of the night was a new Leadership Award, presented to festival director Nigel Redden. This addition is our way of recognizing "the people who make it possible for dancers to dance and choreographers to choreograph," as our CEO Frederic Seegal put it.
Redden ended the event by sharing a sentiment that seemed to sum up the whole ceremony: "Dance is what it means to be human, what it means to be truly alive."
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Yvonne Rainer's Parts of Some Sextets (AKA "the mattress dance") hasn't been revived since it premiered in 1965. Nor has Rainer had any wish to do it again, to ask performers to heave 10 mattresses around while carrying out 31 tasks that changed every 30 seconds. It was an unwieldy, difficult dance. (Even the title is unwieldy.) But Emily Coates, who has danced in Rainer's work for 20 years, became curious about this piece and was determined to see it again—and to dance in it. She will get her wish November 15–17, when the mattress dance will be performed as part of the Performa 19 Biennial.
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.