The winners of the 2000 Astaire Award in dance were announced May 18 at a benefit luncheon for the Theatre Development Fund (TDF) at the Hudson Theatre. The three winners were Susan Stroman for Best Choreographer (Contact and The Music Man), Deborah Yates for Best Female Dancer (Contact) and Clyde Alves for Best Male Dancer (The Music Man).
Addressing the awards luncheon during her acceptance remarks, director and choreographer Susan Stroman, who has received numerous award nominations this season, called the Astaire Awards her "favorite event of them all."
Doing her best to hold back tears, Stroman used a pantomime gesture with her hands to illustrate how the loss of her husband, director Mike Ockrent, who passed away Dec. 2, 1999, had affected her.
"Had I not had Contact and Music Man," Stroman said, "I' d be a different gal right now." Stroman went on to say that she would be "forever grateful to the dancers," not only in both her companies but throughout the Broadway community for their support.
The benefit luncheon was hosted by award-winning Broadway star Bebe Neuwirth. Founded in 1982, the Astaire Awards are presented annually for the "best dance on Broadway in the categories of best choreographer, best female dancer and best male dancer." The award presenters were Don Correia (to Clyde Alves), Sandy Duncan (to Deborah Yates) and Patricia Birch (to Susan Stroman). Special performances at the event included The Broadway Tenors (Brent Barrett, Alan Campbell and Brian d'Arcy James), tap dancer "Big Coop" Cartier Williams, and the musical number "Moon Faced/Starry Eyed" from Street Scene , choreographed by Patricia Birch and performed by newcomers Madeleine Ehlert and Kevin Bernard in their New York solo debuts. The musical director for the event was Michael Dansicker.
The 2000 Astaire Awards were the first in the 19-year history of the program where nominees were announced in each category, adding an element of suspense and broadening the scope of the awards in an effort to increase awareness and appreciation for the importance of dance on Broadway.
Speaking to that theme, Astaire Awards committee chairman, Douglas Watt said in a prepared statement, "This has been one of the most exciting years for dance on Broadway in many seasons, with thirteen shows eligible for Astaire Awards. The committee chose to celebrate that fact and to honor several of this year's talented dancers and choreographers by restructuring the selection process to include three nominees in each category."
The three dancers nominated from Contact -- Karen Ziemba, Deborah Yates and Stephanie Michels -- spoke with Playbill On-Line and commented on the resurgence of dance and the meaning that dance holds for Broadway audiences.
"As we know ,there is a tremendous audience response from the joy that dance brings," Ziemba said. "From the experience with Contact we have found that we can, indeed, tell stories through dance. It's not that it's a new idea, but people are beginning to realize, 'Oh, yes, that's right,' it's not just about the steps, it's about how you feel and how you convey thought and tell stories."
Ziemba also stressed that the dance art form requires constant expression, so that new talent can learn choreography from people that have passed on but have left their legacy with their assistants and others who have worked with them.
Nominee Stephanie Michels borrowed a theme from choreographer Patricia Birch and said that dance was "evolutionary."
"When Susan [Stroman] started the process with all of us," Michels said, "we were brought in as the dancers that we are and she gave us the forum to express as actresses, and she helped us bring that in to bridge the gap between what we could be as opposed to just being the dancers who are brought in for the 11 o'clock number. She gave us the forum to tell our stories through dance with dialogue and with our eyes, our arms and our legs, and we bring that emotion from the floor all the way up through. I think people are seeing the beauty of it and loving the stories that we can tell through dance as well as through song and acting."
Best Female Dancer Deborah Yates said, "I think dance has been sort of a stepchild for Broadway for some time and I think people are seeing for the first time that it has a unique power. People relate to movement. In a way they feel it in their own body, so it's a unique way of showing the relationship to one another that you can't have necessarily with just the song or the words. But if you actually -- physically -- see the yearning or the irritation, the jealousy or the passion between one another, I think it tells the story in a unique and powerful way."
Here are the Astaire Award results (winners in bold):
Best Female Dancer
Stephanie Michels (Contact)
Deborah Yates (Contact)
Karen Ziemba (Contact)
Best Male Dancer
Clyde Alves (The Music Man)
Michael Berresse (Kiss Me, Kate)
Stanley Wayne Mathis (Kiss Me, Kate)
TDF said the nominees were selected from this past season's Broadway shows that include dance: Aida, Contact, James Joyce's The Dead, Jesus Christ Superstar, Kat and the Kings, Kiss Me Kate, Marie Christine, The Music Man, Putting It Together, Riverdance on Broadway, Saturday Night Fever, Swing and The Wild Party.
The 2000 Astaire Awards committee includes Douglas Watt, The New Yorker and New York Daily News (emeritus), chairman; Clive Barnes, New York Post; Howard Kissel, New York Daily News; Michael Kuchwara, Associated Press; Donald McDonagh, managing editor of Ballet Review; Richard Philp, Dance Magazine; Charles L. Reinhart, director of the American Dance Festival and Linda Winer, Newsday.
Theatre Development Fund (TDF), is the largest non-profit performing arts service organization in the United States. TDF has been supporting plays of merit and building new audiences for theatre since 1968. TDF is world famous for its TKTS discount ticket centers in Times Square and Two World Trade Center.
-- By Murdoch McBride