At Bessie Awards, dancers gather to celebrate pandemic art

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At Bessie Awards, dancers gather to celebrate pandemic art
Jasmine Hearn in “The Motherboard Suite” in an undated photo. Hearn was awarded a Bessie for outstanding performer.The annual awards show recognized performers across a variety of genres, including hip-hop and flamenco. Tony Turner via The New York Times.

by Javier C. Hernández

NEW YORK, NY.- The pandemic brought much of the performing arts world in New York to a halt starting last year. But it could not stop dancers from pursuing their passion: at home, in parks, on rooftops and on street corners.

Independent artists, choreographers and performers gathered on Monday night for the annual Bessies, or New York Dance and Performance Awards, to celebrate the dance of the pandemic. At a virtual ceremony, they recognized performers across genres, including hip-hop and flamenco.

The pandemic, which left many dancers unemployed or struggling to make a living, was a recurring theme during the 90-minute ceremony.

“Being a part of this great army fighting to keep dance alive and thriving during this extremely long pandemic year felt and still feels so necessary,” Hope Boykin said, in accepting the award for outstanding breakout choreographer. “We were forced to create when we couldn’t leave our houses and we had to find ways to make our work, work.”

The ceremony cast a wide net, with four winners (out of 12 nominees) in each of the two main categories: outstanding performer and outstanding production. Digital works presented between March 2020 through May of this year were eligible, as were live performances from June 2020 until May 2021. (A full list of the awardees can be found at

The outstanding performer awards went to LaTasha Barnes, known for her work in House, hip-hop and swing; Jasmine Hearn and d. Sabela grimes for their performances in “The Motherboard Suite”; and Annique Roberts, for her work with the dance company Ronald K. Brown/Evidence.

The outstanding production winners were tap dancer Ayodele Casel, for “Ayodele Casel: Chasing Magic,” a virtual presentation by the Joyce Theater; flamenco dancer Israel Galván for “Maestro de Barra,” also at the Joyce; Indigenous Enterprise, a Native American dance troupe; and the creative team behind the “The Motherboard Suite,” including musician Saul Williams and choreographer Bill T. Jones.

Galván, in his acceptance speech, called the Bessie a “magical award” given that it was coming at such a difficult moment for the performing arts community.

“All awards are good,” he said, “but an award coming from New York has more light.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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