Sage Awards rocked my face off

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Sage Awards rocked my face off

This year I missed the Ivey Awards for the first time since their inception because I was just too busy, but I figured I'd make up for it by attending the Sage Awards for the first time. And go figure, dancers do it quite differently.

For those just looking for the facts, scroll down to read the list of honorees. But as a first-time attendee who's a little on the cynical side about awards events, I'm just dying to share what an amazing experience I had last night.

Here's the background. The event was created by Dana Kassel and Stuart Pimsler five years ago, it honors and celebrates the people who make our dance scene so fabulous, and it was named after Sage Cowles in appreciation for all she's contributed to the dance community. Sounds pretty similar to the Iveys, right? But it's got a whole different vibe.

No red carpet, no paparazzi, no glamorous photos on print ads, no VIP pre-party, and the post-show drinks are cheap and served in a little room next to the Walker Art Center's McGuire Theater. The event is much less formal, and yet somehow more elegant.

Replace ball gowns with whimsical, creative, self-designed outfits, statuesque physiques and really great shoes. Replace the stately super-lit State Theater with a simple teal cyc behind the Walker's stage, bare except for a piano, cello and microphone. Replace big musical numbers with a an eclectic mix of artsy dance like Kats D nearly naked and writhing his way out of a sealed plastic bag. Replace teleprompters with notecards. Replace an austere, abstract trophy with a framed piece of commissioned visual art by a local artist. You get the idea, yes?

The honored recipients are a lot less comfortable on microphone, but their shyness is accompanied by heartfelt expression, beautiful posture, and much more genuine discussion of craft vs. product. Nobody gets cut off for long thank-you speeches, but the evening was still only 90 minutes long. I was so charmed by these artists and truly educated by their thoughts, that not only was the evening an inspiring celebration of community, but it succeeds as a PR event because it made me want to see a whole lot more dance.

Here are some of my favorite moments:

  • Sally Rousse, the emcee for the evening, bringing the house lights up and making everyone stand so she could picture them in their underwear, then musing out loud that dancers don't wear underwear so asking all the dancer to sit down.
  • Sally's costumes. From an elegant dress to a silly white tutu to a star-spangled jumpsuit to a Jackie-O outfit complete with sunglasses and a handheld fan to blow her hair back, eventually completed with a simply gorgeous violet evening gown, wow that woman is just glorious.
  • One of the panelists speaking to the dance community, "You've got guts, smarts, talent, skill, and the stamina of wild horses." Seemed pretty apt.
  • Chris Yon's first words as he accepted an award for his creation of The Infinite Multiverse "Holy crap," as well as last words after many thanks, "OK now get this [the microphone] out of my hand."
  • John Munger, as he accepted an award for his re-creation of one of his older works, Lord Cutglass, "We are too addicted to premiers ... it took me twenty years to get this one right."
  • Kristin Van Loon, on accepting her second award of the evening, "Wow, I'm glad I wore so many necklaces."
  • The Special Citation award went to a collaboration between the Wild Goose Chase Cloggers and the DeLaSouljah Steppers on a project that brought traditional American folk dance together with a high school step team and a local hip-hop artist. Wow, what an unlikely mix of people that seemed truly transformed by their collaboration. Ann Carter, of the Cloggers, on pursuing a crazy project and a not-so-cool art form, "You just gotta do what you do and do who you are, and the rest will unfold." Roosevelt Mansfield, hip-hop artist, on an unlikely collaboration, "We look different, but you'd be surprised how much hip-hop and clogging have in common. That's what hip-hop is really all about - expression regardless of difference."
  • Max Wirsing, the house manager at the McGuire Theater, who was also a Sage panelist, "This really got me out of my house and into other houses where I discovered things I had no idea I would love. We should all get out of our houses a little more."

Most awards for the evening went to Kristin Van Loon, who seemed genuinely surprised and moved by the recognition. Which is awesome, because as a dancer with Hijack, and the artistic director at Bryant-Lake Bowl, she masterfully juggles making tons of great art with making it possible for tons of other artists to make great work too.

The show most recognized and most frequently mentioned was Chris Yon's The Infinite Multiverse. Wow, wish I'd seen that. It was at the BLB. Never ceases to amaze me how much great dance work that tiny stage premiers.

My favorite thank-you speech was Vanessa Voskuil, accepting the design award along with John Koch and David Mehrer for design of En Masse. She stood in total, composed, silence for about two full minutes, then proceeded to request house lights up so that all the dancers in the audience who performed in her piece (which had a cast of 70) could stand up and be recognized. And her truly heartfelt thanks to all her collaborators for "working through the unknown" with her.

Best recipient attire had to be the combination of Jeremy Wilhelm's red pants and Karen Sherman's total kilt ensemble.

After the Iveys I usually resolve to get a better dress next year. After the Sages, I find myself resolving to get out of my house and see more dance. Hey theater artists, just in case you're like me, a little late to discover our sister community of dance, you should know this community, like our theater scene, is the most vibrant in the nation. And you should get out of your house and go be inspired by their exceptionally beautiful and brave work. And by the way, I'm just gonna go ahead and say it, they're doing a lot edgier stuff than we are, and they're doing it with less resources and less press coverage. So there.

Here's the list:

Outstanding Performance

  • Lord Cutglass – John Munger
  • O.M.G. P.Y.T. M.K.T. – Hijack
  • The Infinite Multiverse – Chris Yon

Outstanding Performer

  • Taryn Griggs
  • Tamara Ober
  • Kristin Van Loon

Outstanding Design

  • Vanessa Voskuil – concept and production design; John Koch and Vanessa Voskuil – video design; David Mehrer – lighting prop design for En Masse
  • Karen Sherman & Jeremy Wilhelm – set design for Copperhead

Outstanding Dance Educator

  • Jane Shockley

Special Citation

  • Wild Goose Chase Cloggers & DeLaSouljah Steppers

People’s Choice

  • Sachiko Nishiuchi

—Posted at 10:31 am by Leah