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LA Dance Awards Honor Local Excellence

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Photo of Holly Johnston by Andre Andreev

The Los Angeles concert dance community's Lester Horton Dance Awards, our hometown answer to the Oscars, New York's Tonys and Bessies, and San Francisco's Isadora Duncan awards were announced on Sunday at a humble event at the Jensen Recreation Center in Echo Park. Attended by a few hundred dancers, choreographers, collaborating artists and other supporters, this 17th annual occasion drew cheers and smiles from most of the folks attending.

In its final year of the current nomination/selection process, the awardees were nominated by a panel of knowledgeable site visitors who came to several of the many performances offered each year. After three of these judges agree that the work, dancer or event is worthy of exemplary recognition, the membership of the city's concert dance service organization, the Los Angeles Dance Resource Center voted on a ballot to select the winners. Unfortunately the all-volunteer DRC has had to cut back on its goals and next year's awards will be generated by membership nomination and, again, a membership vote. Not quite how it's done in our sister cities, but the best our lack of money can do in this deficit-spending time.

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Nonetheless, the Lester Horton Awards celebrate what our local artists have managed to do for and with their art as it honors excellence in concert dance in Southern California

Introduced by self-proclaimed Broadway hoofer, Carol Lawrence, ex-B'way gypsy and creator of, Grover Dale was honored with a lifetime achievement award. In their presentation and acceptance speeches, the two made mention of their roots, some of the iconic artists and celebrities with whom they've worked and how the scene has changed since when they were in the middle of it.

Though recently released from his 30+ years as LA Times staff dance critic, Lewis Segal shared his certificate of congratulations from the office of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa for service to the dance community. As a sweet acknowledgement to the joys and pleasures he has enjoyed writing about Los Angeles dance, the sometimes loved/sometimes hated critic drew a respectable round of applause from the audience as it, too, wonders about the future of dance coverage in our print media.

Other recipients of special awards were choreographer/presenter Meg Wolfe (the Lester Horton Dance Community Award), photographer Tim Alger (furthering the visibility of dance) and choreographer Rosanna Gamson (dance innovator). Award presenters included the Skirball Cultural Center'sJordan Peimer, freelance dance critic Victoria Looseleaf and Highways Performance Space'sexecutive and artistic director Leo Garcia, among others.

The awardees, in no specific order, are:

  • Long form choreography: Keith Johnson ("Girl Falling Towards the Sky");
  • short form choreography (10 minutes or less): a shared prize for Jennifer Backhaus ("Push") and Regina Klenjoski("The Museum Project--Triptych #2") ;
  • Keith Glassman for the revival, reconstruction, restaging of his 1994 "Slip Knot;"
  • Patrick Damon Rago for his performance in his evening-length "Manifold;"
  • Ledges and Bones Dance Project choreographer and artistic director, Holly Johnston, for her performance of "experiment one;"
  • break-dancer Jacob "Kujo" Lyons' interdisciplinary dance and physical theater company Lux Aeterna for outstanding performance by a company (in "Underwater" and "Beached");
  • Andrea Brache and William Lu of the Orange County company Backhausdance for outstanding achievement in performance by a small ensemble (in "Push");
  • Producer Jamie Nichols' and her Celebrate Dance Festival 2007;
  • Costume design: Monica Favand Campagna, "Poisoning the Well;"
  • Music for dance: Charlie Campagna, "Poisoning the Well;"
  • Set design: Rogelio Lopez Garcia, "Girl Falling Towards the Sky;"
  • Lighting design: Eileen Cooley and Monique L'Heureux, Celebrate Dance 2007.

Interestingly, critic Segal cited several other recent dance events that may receive their accolades in the future as they demonstrate the growing depth of Los Angeles' contemporary dance scene: Diavolo Dance Theater'sperformance with the LA Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl and choreographer Victoria Marks' touring politically-charged project, "Not About Iraq." Surprisingly, however, all of the awardees come from a modern (if not post-modern) slice of the concert dance pie. None of the many ethnic and culturally-specific dance companies that abound in our city received awards, though several were nominated. Only time will tell what this all means.