The A.W.A.R.D. Show! 2009 is truly a reward to the dance community as it seeks to build an improved relationship between artists and their audiences. Premiering in New York in the intimate theater space within Joyce SoHo on June 18, this year’s series of performances will extend into three additional cities including Chicago, Philadelphia and Seattle. 48 dance groups were selected to perform in this year’s competition from a submission pool of 218 from all around the United States. 12 dance groups will perform in each city, split into smaller programs of 4 dance groups on each of three nights.
Audience members are given ballots to rank the dance groups based upon the strength of their art and their ability to move the audience. The three finalists from each night then perform on the fourth date to determine the ultimate victor within that city. The chosen group is awarded $10,000 towards the creation of new work! The two runner-up groups are granted a $1,000 prize. All artists are held responsible for reporting how the funds are being contributed towards the new work.
Apart from the voting process, the audiences take part in question and answer based discussions following the performances in addition to being encouraged to fill out comment cards that provide feedback to the choreographers. A mediator is selected to smooth this process and assure that each choreographer is allotted the same amount of time and consideration. The evening is finished off with a more informal intermingling of audience and artists at a reception. The winner is not announced until the following day, making the culmination of the evening pleasant for everyone.
Vanessa Justice (Vanessa Justice Dance) presents first on the program with an anxiety-driven, abstract work entitled Flatland. Three females in blousy dresses appear against the back wall. They are compelled individually by the same movements, oftentimes as if swept up in some unseen force. As the dancers seemingly stumble about in a sort of waltz, darkened images of them appear along the back wall, conjuring up questions about space and time.
The dancers, like all humanity, have a similar shared experience onstage, yet a disconnect between them exists. Although often in tight formations, the dancers remain isolated within their own spirals of daily toil. The dancers are in an apparent dream-state as they are carried along in a whirling soundscape. Vanessa Justice provides some lovely insights into her own work, though she clearly maintains her belief in the importance of some ambiguity in her dances, giving the audience a chance to apply their own interpretations.
A source of inspiration for Flatland is the concept of a two-dimensional plane, as well as the alternate meanings of plain. Her use of the disappearing and reappearing images are a direct investigation of the dualistic relationship between absence and presence. The unison movement is directed internally, as Vanessa Justice describes the focus of movement originating with the breath. The consistent life experience of breath in its cycle of expansion and compression is depicted by the entire dancing body onstage and is reflected in the nuanced movement of the arms and hands. Ultimately, Vanessa Justice describes her inspiration for her work using the idea of the sublime. She portrays that within a person exists a complex interaction of anxiety and beauty.
Sidra Bell (Sidra Bell Dance New York) presents two excerpts from her developing work, Anthology. Inspired by fashion and influenced by earlier studies in painting, Sidra Bell’s choreography is distinctive and descriptive. Accompanied by electronic percussion, the dancers articulate each movement as they transcribe beautiful, linear and circuitous pathways through space with their limbs.
Sidra Bell explains that her movement development process often originates with the hands through gestures - a natural source for her as a former painter. Inspired by architecture, Sidra Bell is keenly aware of spatial relationships. In the first section presented, Extract I: your distance kept seems to focus on individuals coexisting within society, filling their specific roles. These two sections are organized according to “states of being”, the first being a movement investigation developed from guided improvisations with her dancers. Using this improvisation process enables her to create movement that is organic to the individual dancer, yet a cohesive piece of the whole work.
The second section presented, Extract II: your hands, evokes sensations of manipulation and control issues involved within relationships. Sidra Bell’s choice of costuming confronts typical gender roles. In this duet, the man wears the tutu positioned in strong contrast to the female’s suspendered pants. One might say Sidra Bell uses this opportunity to fully investigate what it is like for the woman to wear the pants in the relationship.
If Extract I is about disembodiment, then Extract II explores embodiment as the dancers experiment with what it would feel like to take on the role of someone else. The duet is captivating, with quick interactive manipulations occurring between the dancers, eliciting a sharp gasp from the audience at its conclusive moment of surrender. With an urban feel, this work tells stories of the people to the people.
DOORKNOB COMPANY, comprised of co-choreographing artists Shannon Gillen and Elisabeth Motley, present The Waiting Room. The duet has an incredible chemistry as they have been creating works together for a decade. The stage is set to recreate the environment of a waiting room with a television playing the film La Strada, whose soundtrack becomes the musical score for the work. The film acts as a conduit, its characters providing impulses for the dancers and a thematic duality of brute versus innocent. Gillen and Motley are true to their intentions of responding and interacting with their environment, their bodies synching with folding chairs and collapsing to the ground.
This personification through dance happens again as they become the static pulse of the soundtrack. These two are so effective emotionally that they are able to seamlessly change roles within the work, even so far as to represent aspects of one person. Gillen and Motley are daring in dance, not afraid to include nudity where it is an appropriate element to portray the inevitable examination. In The Waiting Room, Gillen and Motley engage the audience in the suspense, taking the attention of the audience through every psychological twist. Using humor to lighten the intensity, Gillen and Motley reach a deeper level as they explore the underlying complexities of humanity.
Andrea Miller, choreographer and founder of Gallim Dance, presents Blush. Two portions of the work are presented that would usually contain a ten minute portion between them, however adjustments are made to fit within the context of the program. The opening segment is filled with intense energy and a sort of sexual hunger. The second part is a male duet created with a lovely dynamic between a heartfelt, classical score and the struggling, manipulative movement.
Andrea Miller describes her method of choreographing as beginning with a sort of jam session, in which she is led by the music. Encouraging the dancers to move about the space, they first “get the quality of music in their bones”. Then she sets the same movements to another piece of music, experimenting with how the change in music leads to a change in physicality. Working closely with her dancers, Andrea Miller formulates dynamic dancing. The complete work of Blush is certainly something to look forward to.
Following the dance performance, the audience becomes involved in an informative question and answer session with each choreographer, leading to tremendous insight behind each work. During the following reception, complete with wine, juice and small delicacies, audience members enjoy conversing casually with the choreographers and dancers. This format is a wonderful way to encourage dialogue about dance and build support for the ever struggling dance artists.
The A.W.A.R.D. Show! presents an exciting look at new choreography from contemporary choreographers. It's a wonderful opportunity for choreographers to show off their work and also, perhaps, gain financial backing for the development of new work. The process of the performance with post-performance discussion provides crucial feedback and understanding for both sides, the artists and the audience. This is a wonderful example of how Joyce SoHo succeeds in bringing audiences closer to dance!
UPDATE! The following is an announcement of the winners of The A.W.A.R.D. Show! 2009:
June 22, 2009, New York, NY -- The Joyce Theater Foundation is pleased to announce that choreographer Makiko Tamura (small apple co.) is the winner of The A.W.A.R.D Show! 2009: New York City. Tamura, who competed in a four day event with eleven other participants, received a $10,000 cash award to use toward the creation of a new dance work. Two runners-up, Monica Bill Barnes (Monica Bill Barnes & Company) and Shannon Gillen & Elisabeth Motley (DOORKNOB COMPANY) were each awarded $1,000.
The A.W.A.R.D. Show! 2009: New York City Biographies of the Prize Winners
(Choreographer/Dancer) graduated from the Women's Junior College of Physical Education and Toho Gakuen College of Drama and Music in Tokyo, Japan. She has worked with Nathan Trice/RITUALS, Vanessa Justice Dance, Digby Dance, Ellis Wood Dance and in the works of various New York City choreographers.
She founded small apple co. in 2004. She choreographs, teaches and she is a special guest choreographer/dancer of The Dance Satellite Lecture at The Yamaguchi University Faculty of Education every year in Japan since 2004. She has been presented at newsteps choreographer’s series at Chen Dance Center, Danspace Project at St. Mark’s Church, JENNIFER MULLER/THE WORKS, Dance New Amsterdam and Tisch School of the Arts. She will be showing her work at Dance New Amsterdam presents RAW Material 2009. (http://www7b.biglobe.ne.jp/~small_apple05/)
(Choreographer/Dancer) is a New York based choreographer and performer. She has created twelve evening-length dance works, numerous site-specific events and several cabaret numbers for her company, Monica Bill Barnes & Company. Since moving to New York from her native California in 1995, Barnes choreography has been produced in over twenty venues, including Danspace Project which has commissioned and presented three works; When we were pretty (2002), The Happy Dance (or what started out ok) (2004) and Suddenly Summer Somewhere (2007). Other commissions include Another Parade (2009) commissioned by the 92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Festival, I feel like (2008) commissioned by DanceNow’s 10 Year Anniversary Project and Game Face (2008) presented by Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s SITELINES Festival. Her work has been presented in 30 cities throughout the United States and abroad. (www.monicabillbarnes.com)
DOORKNOB COMPANY: Manifesto/Credo
Shannon Gillen & Elizabeth Motley
As part of DOORKNOB COMPANY’s integrative approach to dance theater, the company utilizes a rigorous developmental process to explore various conflicts. Environment dictates everything. DOORKNOB, therefore, explores character driven experience and creates movement as a reaction to the constraints of each scene. Movement, text, scenic elements and music work in tandem creating a heightened reality. Performers live truthfully under imaginary circumstances.
Since its establishment in 2004, DOORKNOB COMPANY has performed works at Festival Oltre Passo in Lecce, Italy, Dance Theatre Workshop, The Stella Adler Studio of Acting, HERE Arts Center’s American Living Room Festival, Dance New Amsterdam’s Raw and Object series, The Ontological-Hysteric Theatre, The Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Sitelines Series, and Movement Research at Judson Memorial Church. The company’s founders have held residency with DTW’s Fresh Tracks, DNA’s AIR and most recently LMCC’s Swing Space. (www.doorknobcompany.org)
Photo Credit: Bill Herbert
Official Dance Review by Lea McGowan
Performance: The A.W.A.R.D. Show! 2009
Artists With Audiences Responding to Dance
Choreography: Andrea Miller, Elisabeth Motley, Shannon Gillen, Sidra Bell, Vanessa Justice
Venue: Joyce SoHo, New York City
Performance Date: Thursday June 18, 2009 7pm