Mary Grace McNally's "Not for Picking" (Rachel Papo for Dance Teacher)

What's better than a competition that gives promising choreographers a whole bunch of funding? How about a competition that also puts on a must-see show as part of the process? That's the genius model of the Capezio A.C.E. Awards. Every year since 2009, the contest has brought upwards of a dozen finalists, selected from a pool of hundreds of applicants, to present their choreography in a fabulous showcase at the Dance Teacher Summit. On Saturday night, we got to see the work of no fewer than 21(!) talented finalists in this year's performance.

The judging panel—whose task we did not envy—featured boldface names Mia Michaels, Tyce Diorio, Tessandra Chavez, and Dance Magazine Editor in Chief Jennifer Stahl. Who'd they select for the top prizes? The winners are...

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The winner: Kirsten Russell's Islands

There was major talent on display last night at the 2015 Capezio A.C.E. Awards here at the Dance Teacher Summit in Long Beach, California. Seventeen choreographers offered up works of contemporary dance, tap, musical theater, hip hop and everything in between for the chance to win up to $15,000 and their own fully-produced show. I was on the judging panel along with Mia Michaels, Ray Leeper and Julie McDonald of McDonald Selznick Associates. Although we only had a few minutes to come to an agreement on the winners after the performances, I think we were all excited about the promise of the pieces we chose.

1. The winner was Kirsten Russell for her contemporary piece, Islands. Mia put it best during our discussion backstage: This movement was by far the most original, with phrases and ways of using the body that we haven't seen before. Personally, I also loved the dynamic use of musicality, and how Russell found surprising ways to play with counterpoint between individual dancers and larger groups.


First runner up: Andrew Winghart's Heed the Call

2. First runner up was Heed the Call by Andrew Winghart, an intense, hard-driving number to a score that sounded like Middle Eastern-influenced hip hop. Winghart's sophisticated use of group structure convinced the panel that this is a choreographer who could successfully create a complex evening-length work that would hold an audience's interest for more than 60 minutes. His skillful choreography made us feel a sense of trust in where he was taking us.


Second runner up was a split. Here's Marinda Davis' Give.Me.Love.

3. Second runner up was split between Cat Cogliandro's Ripe & Run and Marinda Davis' Give.Me.Love. Cogliandro (standing on the left in the photo) impressed the judges with her theatricality and musicality, while Davis (on the right) won us over with her piece's happy, effervescent energy that seemed to explode out of the dancers.

Congrats to all the winners!


All photos by Joe Toreno.


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