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Togetherness and Solidarity Transpire at the Bessies


Black Women in Entertainment

Togetherness and Solidarity Transpire at the Bessies

Making their first appearance at the Skirball Center on Washington Square, the New York Dance and Performance Awards, known as the Bessies, delighted from the top of Monday night’s 33rd annual ceremony, when executive director Lucy Sexton herded the nominees onto the stage and announced that they’d each receive a $500 check from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. The cash couldn’t have been more welcome. But the real rush to the evening’s bloodstream came from the fact that at least twenty of the forty nominated artists and events, and ultimately nine of the sixteen winners (several involving multiple artists), were people of color, and that their friends and families turned out in full force to celebrate them. On top of that, the evening’s hosts, American Ballet Theatre’s James Whiteside and the pop artist Shernita Anderson, rocked a succession of increasingly fabulous outfits.

Jerron Herman, an African-American dancer and playwright who has hemiplegia cerebral palsy , captured the mood: At the lectern, he murmured, “Hashtag BessiesSoBlack,” a rejoinder to the 2016 Academy Awards, which had been dubbed #OscarsSoWhite on social media. And later on, the huge, all-woman ensemble of the skeleton architecture, or future of our worlds, curated by Outstanding Service to the Field awardee (and longtime Voice writer) Eva Yaa Asantewaa and honored as an Outstanding Production, knelt onstage and raised their fists, acknowledging — and triumphantly pushing past — the general level of discriminatory insult directed toward them throughout their lives. Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, like Yaa Asantewaa a forty-year veteran of the city’s dance scene, was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award and muttered that she’d need another prize before she was done. (She performed part of her own Bitter Tongue at the ceremony.) Also staged were an excerpt …


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I am a future butterfly at the stage of growth when I am turning into an adult. I am enclosed in a hard case shell formed by love, family, and friends. It is the hardest stage of becoming a black butterfly. You will encounter many hardships only to come out stronger and better than what you went in. At this stage, you are finding out who you truly are and how to love yourself.

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