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At Bessie Awards, Mourning and Celebration

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A flurry of teenage dancers opened the New York Dance and Performance Awards, better known as the Bessies, on Friday night at Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Park in Manhattan. Set to a backdrop of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” the dancers, from the Brooklyn-based group Diversity of Dance, bounced, leaped and grooved down the aisles through the crowd before taking the stage. Arms were thrown in the air; elbows flung side to side; bodies shook in exuberant celebration.

The pop duo the Illustrious Blacks — the choreographer and performance artist Monstah Black and the D.J. and producer Manchildblack — hosted the annual ceremony, which honors dancers, choreographers and performers. The hosts were clad in matching white blouses, thick black-rimmed glasses, leather culottes and spacey skintight berets.

After the Illustrious Blacks led call-and-response affirmations for the audience to thank their teachers and neighbors, the tone turned somber as they asked for a moment of recognition in a tribute to O’Shea Sibley, the 28-year-old dancer who was fatally stabbed last week in Brooklyn after vogueing at a gas station.

“How is it possible that in 2023 someone was brutally murdered for dancing?” Manchildblack said.

Many of the presenters wove in urgent calls for L.G.B.T.Q. rights and the importance of self-expression when they announced the nominees. There were four winners each honored in two main categories: outstanding performer and outstanding choreographer/creator.

The performer awards went to J. Bouey, who uses they/them pronouns, for their role in “A Message from Mx. Black Copper”; Amanda Castro for her performance in “Ayodele Casel: Chasing Magic”; Joyce Edwards for her dancing in “Grace, The Equality of Night and Day and Open Door”; and Albert Silindokuhle Ibokwe Khoza for his performance in “And so you see … our honorable blue sky and ever enduring sun … can only be consumed slice by slice …

“A choreographer said to me you’re not a dancer, but I’m holding this in my hands right now,” Khoza said in his acceptance speech.

The choreographer/creator winners were LaTasha Barnes for “The Jazz Continuum”; Dormeshia for “Rhythm Is Life,” Benjamin Akio Kimitch for “Tiger Hands” and Omari Wiles for “New York Is Burning.”

“I’m going to very honest, this is very unexpected,” Dormeshia said upon accepting her award. “My goal is to make art that remains true to the integrity of the art form so I thank you for recognizing that.”

The dancer, singer and actor Dionne Figgins presented the 2023 Lifetime Achievement in Dance award to the trailblazing ballet dancer and choreographer Virginia Johnson, who helped revive the Dance Theater of Harlem and who stepped down from the company this year.


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