Minneapolis, Minnesota

They are holding the annual Minnesota Sage Dance Awards at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis tonight. I have been asked for days whether I plan to attend. I do not.

I extend good wishes to the organizers and participants, and will congratulate the awardees as I see them after they are known. However, it is just a simple fact that the Sage Awards hold no compelling relevance for me and the work I have done in Minnesota’s dance milieu for more than 25 years.

The stated purpose of the Sage Awards is to recognize outstanding achievement of the past year in six categories: Dance Performance, Dance Performers, Educator, Design, Special Citation, and People’s Choice. It puzzles me that for four years so little outstanding achievement has been found either for nomination or recognition among the state’s most visible and traditional dance companies, particularly for Dance Performance.

Members of an anonymous panel of up to 18 jurors attend countless performances and bi-monthly meetings during a year before hammering out a consensus about the nominees and “winners” for each category.

Camille LeFevre, a long-time dance writer and critic, has written a post for mnartists.org in which she muses about a perceived insiders’ game among Sage Award jurors.

Truly, it puzzles me that in four years, little or no outstanding work has been identified as emanating from Arena Dances by Mathew Janczewski; Ballet of the Dolls; Black Label Movement; Beyond Ballroom Dance Company; Joe Chvala and the Flying Foot Forum; Live Action Set; Minnesota Dance Theatre, Raga
mala Music & Dance Theatre; Shapiro & Smith Dance; James Sewell Ballet; Zenon Dance Company; and Zorongo Flamenco Dance Theatre, to name just some of the overlooked Twin Cities companies. We also have the Minnesota Ballet in Duluth, which seems to have enough artistic mojo going for it to license works by George Balanchine and Agnes DeMille.

Although it appears that something is amiss in this juried process, I do not believe that anyone is manipulating the outcomes, consciously or not. Nor do I believe that anyone else thinks so.

What I do believe is that many people in this dance milieu have limited their dance experiences, expectations, and judgments to small areas around their comfort zones. I also suspect that some allow their likes and dislikes of various personalities to cloud their judgments. Where true, all of this affects the decisions of jurors and, to inject the requisite p.c. disclaimer, none of this makes anyone a bad person.

I try to congratulate everyone who works in dance on a regular basis. So, to all of you who may be reading this: “Thank you and congratulations!”

ADDENDUM [09/25/08]: Morgan Thorson, a choreographer, has posted her thoughts about the Sage Awards on the Walker Art Center’s blog: http://blogs.walkerart.org/performingarts/2008/09/24/insidery/.

ADDENDUM [09/28/08]: Caroline Palmer, a longtime dance writer and critic, has crafted In Defense of the SAGE Dance Awards on the City Pages website: http://blogs.citypages.com/ctg/2008/09/in_defense_of_t.php.