“I’ve just come from Arthur Mitchell’s memorial service,” said American Ballet Theatre principal dancer Misty Copeland during the evening’s opening remarks. “Celebrating a life of such incredible impact puts so much into perspective. With the climate of the world we live in today, the arts and dance have an even larger opening and responsibility to lead the way. Social justice is expressed with no bias when expressed through dance.”
Copeland, a former Dance Magazine Award recipient herself, continued her introduction with a call to action — a message that reverberated throughout the night, imbuing both the performances and subsequent award acceptance speeches with an air of purpose. “We all in this room and in the dance world hold responsibility to use what we love for good, to move the art form forward, to move and motivate one another, to transcend race, religion and politics. Dance unifies. So let’s get to work.”
The Dance Magazine Awards were established in 1954 to celebrate artists who, whether through choreography or performance, have “left a lasting impact on the dance world.” Continuing the tradition, this year’s Dance Magazine Awards honored choreographer Ronald K. Brown, Miami City Ballet Artistic Director Lourdes Lopez, choreographer Crystal Pite and Paul Taylor Dance Company member Michael Trusnovec.
To illustrate the work of each of the honorees, excerpts of pieces created by or for each of the recipients were sprinkled throughout the evening, beginning with an excerpt from “Promethean Fire,” danced by honoree Michael Trusnovec and Parisa Khobdeh.
“I never ever feel more alive than when I’m dancing,” said Trusnovec after his performance. “My breathing slows. I feel like time sort of stops — it just sort of slows down and stills. And there’s just joy.” During his speech, Trusnovec also paid tribute to Paul Taylor, noting, “I know that 20 years and 50 years from now, I’ll continue to be grateful for Paul for noticing me, for even just seeing me.”
Following an excerpt of her 2010 piece “The Other You,” performed by Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Crystal Pite shared the story of her mother and a friend traveling “five hours by bus and ferry boat” in the late 1970s to see Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater perform in Vancouver, Canada — an experience that prompted the duo to recreate Ailey’s “Revelations” in the lobby of a Holiday Inn.
Pite credited this memory, passed down to her from her mother when she was a young girl, along with a book of images featuring Ailey member Judith Jamison, as the lightning strike that illuminated her career path. “In the years that followed, from talking with my mom and looking at those images,” said Pite, “I assembled a mental picture of a dancer who glided and floated, who carved out time and space with epic limbs and awesome grace. I wanted to do that.”
To celebrate Lourdes Lopez, members of the Miami City Ballet performed a pas de deux excerpted from “A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream.” Lopez, who made history as the first-ever Latina principal dancer with New York City Ballet and then as the only Latina artistic director of a major ballet company in the United States, shared her sentiment about the power of dance, emphasizing its ability to unite. “It widens your world. It broadens your perspective,” said Lopez. “It teaches you about life and how to live it. And artists who come from all over the world speak only one common language: movement to music.”
Ronald K. Brown was honored with a performance of “She Is Here,” danced by Annique Roberts, a member of his company, Evidence.
Echoing the shared history expressed by other award recipients, Brown, who received his first commission at the age of 21, spoke of a memory of Ailey filed into the timeline of his career. “We’re rehearsing at the old Ailey Building,” said Brown, recounting pivotal moments in his career. “Mr. Ailey comes and sits next to me, and he says, ‘Are you one of mine?’ And I said, ‘Mr. Ailey, I did not go to this school, but I’m one of yours.’”
Expanding the scope of the Dance Magazine Awards, this year’s ceremony included two new categories: the Harkness Promise Award and the Leadership Award.
The Harkness Promise Award, which provides studio space, time and funds to up-and-coming choreographers to develop their craft, went to Raja Feather Kelly and Ephrat “Bounce” Asherie. “To recognize emerging artists along tonight’s extraordinarily accomplished Dance Magazine Awardees, icons in our field,” said Harkness Foundation’s Joan Finkelstein, “is to embrace both ends of the dance career spectrum.”
The final performance of the evening came from Gallim Dance in a tribute to Nigel Redden, who received the inaugural Leadership Award. “All of us can agree,” said Redden afterward, “that dance can tell stories, express emotions and participate in the exploration of what it is to be human, what it means to be truly alive, and that’s why it matters so much to all of us.”
Top Image: Miami City Ballet in "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Photo: Christopher Duggan.