The Metro DC Dance Awards took a giant step forward at its fourth annual ceremony Monday night.
Prizes were presented to both major and developing local artists and dance groups, but most striking was the overall picture the program presented of a dance scene that has been growing by, well, leaps, bounds and jetes.
For the first time, the awards took place at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater, which added both glamour and prestige and contributed to an evening of high-energy and mostly first-class dancing before a packed house.
The program was a combination of showbiz — with a marvelously wide range of dance styles onstage — and awards and heartfelt speeches, most memorably by Douglas Wheel-er, past president of the Washington Performing Arts Society. He presented the Alan Kriegsman Award for lifetime service in dance to Liz Lerman, who, as a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant recipient and founder of the renowned Dance Exchange, was an example of the richness of the local scene.
Ms. Lerman, a spellbinding speaker, painted a thoughtful picture of her life as an artist, paying tribute to her mentors, her two families — her husband and daughter and the generations of dancers in her own company — and eloquently invoking the importance of art in our world.
The reach of local dance was highlighted by the late arrival of Dana Tai Soon Burgess’ company, just in from the airport after Hurricane Jeanne delayed its return from Ecuador after a State Department-sponsored tour.
After the first disastrous years, which saw sponsors walking away with their own awards, Metro DC’s proceedings have achieved an aura of fairness. To do that, the selection process was turned on its head, says Kristen Brogdon, who, in her dual role as manager for dance administration at the Kennedy Center and chairman of the DC Metro steering committee, was a major force in implementing some of the changes.
The public still participates in nominating artists for the awards, but the winnowing process is left to respected educators and other leaders in the dance community who are not going to be eligible for awards themselves.
The quality of performances was much higher than in years past and had a diversity that reached from the airborne feats of Arachne Aerial Arts to tap, Spanish, ballet, mime, modern dance and a smolderingly sexy tango executed by Tino Bastidas and Susan Reynolds of Tiempo de Tango.
Leading the awards, winning for outstanding overall production in a large venue, was Mr. Burgess’ evocative work on the immigrant experience, “Tracings.”
The award for outstanding overall production in a small venue went to the Washington Ballet’s “7 x 7,” which the company presented at its Wisconsin Avenue NW studios. Perhaps the committee should specify budget instead of venue size next time.
Other awards for outstanding work:
Dance education: Lynn Welters; new work: “I Love, I Don’t” by Meisha Bosma; lighting: Robin Lyttle for Deborah Riley Dance Projects; individual performance: Connie Fink in “Harmonica Breakdown”; emerging performer: Pinling Lin for NY2 Dance; costume design: Judy Hansen for Dana Tai Soon Burgess & Company; group performance: Coyaba Dance Theater at Dance Place; sound design or original composition: Charlie Barnett for DanceSmith; stage design: Nejla Yatkin; emerging choreographer: Jessica Marchant.