Remarks published here after being shared verbally when accepting The 2019 Juried Bessie Award announced on July 10, 2019 in New York City.
Thank you for being here tonight at this incredible celebration. This is a WOW moment. Thank you Carlota, Pam, and Abby for seeing into my work and for recognizing its beauty and artistry. I am beside myself.
I wish I could have performed for you tonight. But I am chairless: one wheelchair was destroyed by Delta Airlines and the other was destroyed by me as I figured out a series of new moves.
I believe in accepting this award, I am the first openly identified disabled dancer to receive a Bessie for disability arts related work. I put it that way because disabled dancers have always danced. We are there in your work–we’ve always been there–but it hasn’t always been possible or safe for us to identify as disabled.
I put it this way because the landscape of dance in New York has shifted hugely in the last few years. Disabled artists have been a part of the New York dance scene for over thirty years. Thank you, Kitty Lunn, for being my first teacher and for your sustained activism and artistic perseverance. Thank you to the artists and activists from all fields of disability performance who gathered together with Lane Harwell and Alejandra Duque Cifuentes of Dance/NYC to map, document, and surface the infrastructures necessary to support disabled artists in the field. You have changed the field. Thank you, Simi Linton, for making space for disability arts first in your scholarship and activism, then in your apartment and then in the world.
Since 2015, there has been tremendous recognition of the physically integrated dance companies and explosive growth in the work of independent disabled artists. Disability-related work used to be thought of as niche work primarily about the lived experience of impairment. Now the field is coming to understand disability as process, aesthetic, culture, politic, and identity. Because disability is generative, I know there will be more for us to learn soon.
I receive this award not as a symbol of recognition, but as a promise to work hard to live in and up to the space it creates. I receive this award with the hope and realization that disability arts will be an enduring part of New York dance scene, not a temporary buzz word. And as I receive this award, I ask you to consider how the system itself works. I am moved to be here tonight but note that I am here alone. Disability arts and culture recognizes the primacy of interdependence as a political statement and often as a way of making work. And so it is for me. Kinetic Light’s DESCENT could not have happened without Laurel Lawson (technology innovator and choreographic collaborator) and Michael Maag (lighting, video, and projection design). These two artists are unparalleled in their creativity, virtuosity, artistry, and passion. Laurel and Michael are dream collaborators. Laurel and Michael’s work makes my work possible. And so it is with Laurel and Michael that I end. Laurel and Michael: you rock my world. – Alice Sheppard