Clockwise from top left: Angel Corella photo by Arian Molina Soca, courtesy Pennsylvania Ballet. David Gordon and Valda Setterfield photo by Luc Delahaye, Courtesy Gordon and Setterfield. Sara Mearns photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB. Masazumi Chaya photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy Ailey

Meet the 2019 Dance Magazine Award Honorees

The 2019 Dance Magazine Awards are here! A tradition dating back to 1954, the Dance Magazine Awards have long celebrated living legends who've made a lasting impact on dance. These days, we go even further with our recently added Chairman's Award for distinctive leaders behind the scenes, and Harkness Promise Awards, a grant for innovative young choreographers.

So who's included among this year's honorees?


Sara Mearns

Ever since Sara Mearns performed her first Odette/Odile at age 19, it was clear she was destined to become one of New York City Ballet's stars. Renowned for her monumental attack and powerful risk-taking onstage, she has stretched the limits of movement in classic Balanchine and Robbins works, and become a high-velocity muse to choreographers like Justin Peck and Alexei Ratmansky. She's also expanded beyond the ballet world: She's taken on classic modern techniques like Cunningham and Duncan; created new work with everyone from downtown dancemaker Jodi Melnick to hip-hop duo Wang Ramirez, and tried her hand at musical theater with a starring role in I Married an Angel, choreographed by her husband, Joshua Bergasse.

David Gordon and Valda Setterfield

"Witty" may be dance critics' favorite word to describe David Gordon and Valda Setterfield. The pioneering director and dancer are renowned for the poignant humor of their work together—his uncanny sense of irony has found the ideal vehicle in her straitlaced, British facade. Former participants in Judson Dance Theater, they have led multifaceted careers both together and on their own. As much a playwright as a choreographer, Gordon has deftly used text, gesture and repetition in lauded works for his own Pick Up Performance Co(s) as well companies like American Ballet Theatre. Setterfield, a standout performer in Merce Cunningham Dance Company, has brought her elegant presence to everything from Woody Allen's Mighty Aphrodite to a recent gender-bending Lear.

Angel Corella

As a star of American Ballet Theatre, Angel Corella performed with such crisp, precise virtuosity that he regularly brought audiences to their feet. From 2008 to 2014, he directed Barcelona Ballet in his native Spain. Today he's back in the U.S. as artistic director of Pennsylvania Ballet, where he's expanded the repertory to include everything from Trisha Brown's O złożony / O composite to new work by Andrea Miller, while never losing the troupe's historic Balanchine base.

Masazumi Chaya

Masazumi Chaya in jeans and white button down, stands behind the curtain showing a movement to a dancer while giving notes

Masazumi Chaya at the dress rehearsal for Alvin Ailey's The Road of the Phoebe Snow (which he restaged in 2007)

Paul Kolnik, Courtesy Ailey

If Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater has had a behind-the-scenes secret sauce for the past two and a half decades, it's Masazumi Chaya. He began dancing with the company in 1972, directly under Alvin Ailey himself, and was appointed associate artistic director by Judith Jamison in 1991. In this role, he's served as an invaluable connection to the past and an exceptional resource for the dancers and artistic team alike. Feeling that it's time to pass along the baton, he recently announced he will be stepping down in January, handing his current role to longtime dancer Matthew Rushing.

Chairman's Award: Linda Shelton

Courtesy The Joyce Theater Foundation

Our 2019 Chairman's Award goes to Linda Shelton, executive director of New York City's The Joyce Theater and Foundation. Over the course of her career, Shelton has been a role model for so many women who dream of becoming leaders in the dance field. A former company manager for The Joffrey Ballet and tour planner for Bolshoi Ballet, she has also been a National Endowment of the Arts panelist, a Dance/USA and Dance/NYC board member and a Benois de le Danse judge.

Harkness Promise Awards: Bobbi Jene Smith and Caleb Teicher

Caleb Teicher leaps over his feet, hands up in the air, a smile on his face. Bobbi Jene Smith in a black dress holds her two hands in fists up near her face.

Jayme Thornton

The Harkness Promise Awards, which offer a grant for innovative young choreographers, will go to Bobbi Jene Smith and Caleb Teicher. This award is funded by proceeds from the Dance Magazine Awards ceremony.

Be sure to check out Dance Magazine's December issue to learn more about each of these incredible honorees.

A ceremony to celebrate them will take place on Monday, December 9, at the Ailey Citigroup Theater in New York City with performances and presentations for each honoree.

Visit dancemediafoundation.org to purchase tickets or make a donation. Contact dmawards@dancemedia.com with any questions.


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Courtesy Harlequin

What Does It Take to Make a Safe Outdoor Stage for Dance?

Warmer weather is just around the corner, and with it comes a light at the end of a hibernation tunnel for many dance organizations: a chance to perform again. While social distancing and mask-wearing remain essential to gathering safely, the great outdoors has become an often-preferred performance venue.

But, of course, nature likes to throw its curveballs. What does it take to successfully pull off an alfresco show?

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Dwight Rhodens "Ave Maria," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Keeping dancers safe outside requires the same intentional flooring as you have in the studio—but it also needs to be hearty enough to withstand the weather. With so many factors to consider, two ballet companies consulted with Harlequin Floors to find the perfect floor for their unique circumstances.

Last fall, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre invested in a mobile stage that allowed the dancers to perform live for socially distanced audiences. "But we didn't have an outdoor resilient floor, so we quickly realized that if we had any rain, we were going to be in big trouble—it would have rotted," says artistic director Susan Jaffe.

The company purchased the lightweight, waterproof Harlequin's AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and the heavy-duty Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl, which is manufactured with BioCote® Antimicrobial Protection to help with the prevention of bacteria and mold. After an indoor test run while filming Nutcracker ("It felt exactly like our regular floor," says Jaffe), the company will debut the new setup this May in Pittsburgh's Schenley Park during a two-week series of performances shared with other local arts organizations.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Open Air Series last fall. The company plans to roll out their new Harlequin AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl floor for more outdoor performances this spring.

Harris Ferris, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

In addition to the possibility of rain, a range of temperatures also has to be taken into account. When the State Ballet of Rhode Island received a grant from the state to upgrade its 15-year-old stage, executive director Ana Fox chose the Harlequin Cascade vinyl floor in the lighter gray color "so that it would be cooler if it's reflecting sunlight during daytime performances," she says.

However, for the civic ballet company's first performance on its new 24-by-48–foot stage on November 22, heat was less of a concern than the Northeastern cold. Fortunately, Fox says the surface never got icy or too stiff. "It felt warm to the feel," she says. "You could see the dancers didn't hesitate to run or step into arabesque." (The Harlequin Cascade floor is known for providing a good grip.)

"To have a safe floor for dancers not to worry about shin splints or something of that nature, that's everything," she says. "The dancers have to feel secure."

State Ballet of Rhode Island first rolled out their new Harlequin Cascade™ flooring for an outdoor performance last November.

Courtesy of Harlequin

Of course, the elements need to be considered even when dancers aren't actively performing. Although Harlequin's AeroDeck is waterproof, both PBT and SBRI have tarps to cover their stages to keep any water out. SBRI also does damp mopping before performances to get pollen off the surface. Additionally, the company is building a shed to safely store the floor long-term when it's not in use. "Of course, it's heavy, but laying down the floor and putting it away was not an issue at all," says Fox, adding that both were easy to accomplish with a crew of four people.

Since the Harlequin Cascade surface is versatile enough to support a wide range of dance styles—and even opera and theater sets—both PBT and SBRI are partnering with other local arts organizations to put their outdoor stages to use as much as possible. Because audiences are hungry for art right now.

"In September, I made our outdoor performance shorter so we wouldn't have to worry about intermission or bathrooms, but when it was over, they just sat there," says Jaffe, with a laugh. "People were so grateful and so happy to see us perform. We just got an overwhelming response of love and gratitude."

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Susan Jaffes "Carmina Terra," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

February 2021