Monday, August 13, 2012

Lucy Sexton responds to Gia Kourlas' Bessie Awards criticism

The Bessies are not only back but in boldface--and drawing some heat. See the recent critique by Gia Kourlas in The New York Times here.

Lucy Sexton, Director, NY Dance and Performance Awards (Bessies), replies here:

I’m writing in response to Gia Kourlas’s recent article on the changes in The NY Dance and Peformance Awards, The Bessies (Aug 11, 2012). Ms. Kourlas says the awards “absolutely” matter, and that they are engaged in a mission not only to recognize outstanding dance and performance, but to “make the world care about dance.” But she takes issue with the creation of subcommittees within the Bessies Selection Committee, which are charged with looking at work in different areas of NYC’s large and diverse dance landscape. She rather inexplicably concludes that the changes mean the awards are “focused on raising the profile of the Bessies rather than on artistic achievement.”

The total number of the Bessie Selection Committee was raised from 15-20 to a total of 41, so there are more eyes looking at more work. The members work in subcommittees so there can be more rigorous considerations of specific areas of dance. The intent, and indeed the result, of the new structure is that artistic achievement is more central to the discussions. And to state the obvious, raising the profile of The Bessies is critical to ensuring the artistic achievement recognized gets broader visibility.

Ms. Kourlas is rightly concerned with how to define the purview of the subcommittee considering more performance-oriented work. As she noted, we have recently changed the wording so it does not define the work recognized as “not dance.” The Judson movement opened up what could be considered dance. The club and performance scene in the 80s created a stew where dancers were mixing it up with people in different disciplines, from drag queens to visual artists doing performances. This is precisely why the awards are called the NY Dance and Performance Awards.

The subcommittee categories are certainly imperfect, but they are adaptive to a wide, ongoing community dialogue and a changing creative environment. The Bessies’ partnership with Dance/NYC, a branch of the national service organization, Dance/USA, has helped to extend and deepen the dialogue with a broad range of dance artists.

Our opportunity is to make clear to a non-dance-insider audience the wide spectrum of dance and performance work being considered. Making what The Bessies do more transparent and understandable to a wider audience is a step in our efforts to “make the world care about dance.”

We welcome feedback and ideas on how best to accomplish that goal.

Lucy Sexton
Director, NY Dance and Performance Awards, The Bessies
Produced in partnership with Dance/NYC

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