"Grey Noise" by Joanna Rosenthal, "Moi Aussi" by Michel Rodriguez, and "It's Not Enough To Close Your Eyes" by Jacqueline Stewart made for an outstanding final evening in the 2010 A.W.A.R.D. show in Chicago. The three works express the three distinctly different visions of Rosenthal, Rodriguez and Stewart and, as is fitting to the final evening in a prestigious competition, each of the works was carefully thought-out and executed at award show level. Jacqueline Stewart was awarded the 2010 prize for her intoxicating duet, presented in a stunning performance by Grace Whitworth and Charlie Cutler, on the basis of a decision by a panel of four judges: Lane Alexander, Homer Bryant, Roeli Schmidt and Linda Shelton. The final decision is actually determined by five votes, one by each judge, as well as one vote based the results of an anonymous ballot of audience members.
The A.W.A.R.D. Show tries to establish parameters for how to choose among the works presented, but it can never be easy to compare such richly different voices in any hierarchical way. Stewart's "It's Not Enough To Close Your Eyes" is certainly a uniquely compelling vision, not only because of the imaginative way that a simple light on stage serves as a focus of the work, but even more so because of the effortless flow of movement ideas in an unspoken story. One of the real challenges of judging a competition though, is where to even find a basis for comparison, how to even begin to judge creative ideas. Is there really any way to compare the somber mysteries of "It's Not Enough To Close Your Eyes" to the expansive and bright "Moi Aussi"? Although also a duet, in Rodriguez' work Jessie Gutierrez and the choreographer perform a dynamic, intricately athletic drama, effortlessly commanding the full scope of a large stage. Joanna Rosenthal presents yet another challenge to a judge, and at The A.W.A.R.D. show that includes everyone in the audience, with an excerpt from her work "Grey Noise", in which a cast of five dancers develop a broadly-conceived architecture to some of the boldest soundtrack ideas that a choreographer could design.
The A.W.A.R.D. Show is certainly not oblivious to the challenges of bringing Dance into the realm of competition; in the Chicago edition, Bonnie Brooks moderates the whole process in a way that can only be described as valiant and effective, and the panel discussion among the four judges that followed the performance was certainly encouraging to the idea that broad but professional open-mindedness was at work. Compared to the opaque way that millions of dollars of grants are awarded, and the perhaps more disturbing dependance of creativity on corporate support (although it's only fair to add that The A.W.A.R.D. Show receives generous hands-off support from The Boeing Company), the wide-open approach of the A.W.A.R.D. is a welcome idea. Still, any such effort is eventually doomed, or eventually blessed, to be completely dependent on the attitudes of its participants --- the competitors, the judges, the administrators and the audiences. An interesting detail of this year's final is that Charlie Cutler, whose performance with Grace Whitworth was of course essential to the successful presentation of Stewart's duet, is actually a company member in Same Planet Different World Dance, where A.W.A.R.D. Show finalist Joanna Rosenthal is the Artistic Director. Is it surprising that Rosenthal wouldn't object to his efforts on behalf of a competitive piece? How surprised you are by that probably depends on how much you've seen of Life-in-the-Big-City, but let's just say that high professionalism like that is almost never appreciated enough.