Dance/USA 2021 Honorees

The 2021 Awards will be presented during the Dance/USA Awards Ceremony on Wednesday, March 10, 2021 at 6:00pm EST.

Dance/USA 2021 Honor Award

Photo credit: Gabriel Bienczycki

Donald Byrd's career has been long and complex and his choreographic and theatrical interests are broad. The New York Times describes him as “a choreographer with multiple personalities … an unabashed eclectic.” It continues, “Yet he does more than hop like a magpie from style to style, taking any subject matter and imagery he finds along the way that strike his fancy. His unruliness is accompanied by a love of order.” In the same article it states, “Mr. Byrd has repeatedly alluded to George Balanchine in his works. Balanchine was an unparalleled master of form. Yet he could also present haunting visions of chaos. Mr. Byrd, like him, is preoccupied with harmony and disruption.” To this point Donald Byrd is equally at home creating cool, abstract pure dance works such as his 2012 work LOVE set to the complete cello suites of Benjamin Britten and the 2011 Euclidean Space set to the music of Amon Tobin, virtuoso sound designer and influential electronic music artist; to his theatrical narrative driven pieces like the ‘carny’ Petrushska and storefront Miraculous Mandarin, his revisionist versions of iconic early 20th Century ballets. Yet he is also known for creating lovely valentines to 19th Century classical repertory including The Harlem Nutcracker (1996) and The Sleeping Beauty Notebook (2005). As well as imaginative choreographic tributes to jazz legends and composers including In A Different Light (2000) set to the lesser known piece of Duke Ellington, Burlesque (2002) created to early recordings of Louis Armstrong, and Jazz Train (1998) to commissioned scores by Vernon Reid, and the late greats Geri Allen, and Max Roach. These works along with The Harlem Nutcracker with its score by Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn and David Berger were critical and audience successes and toured extensively.

Mr. Byrd, a TONY nominated (The Color Purple) and Bessie Award winning (The Minstrel Show) choreographer, became Artistic Director of Spectrum Dance Theater in December 2002. From 1978 – 2002, he was Artistic Director of Donald Byrd/The Group, a critically acclaimed contemporary dance company, founded in Los Angeles and later based in New York, that toured extensively, both nationally and internationally. He has created over 100 modern and contemporary dance works for his own groups as well as for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, Cleo Parker Robinson Dance, Dallas Black Dance Theater, Philadelphia Dance Company (Philadanco), among others; has choreographed for classical companies, including Pacific Northwest Ballet, The Joffrey Ballet, Dance Theater of Harlem, Aterballetto, MaggioDanza diFirenze, and Oregon Ballet Theater.

His non-dance company work has been with some of the most prestigious theater and opera companies in the U.S and abroad., including The New York Shakespeare Festival/Public Theater, La Jolla Playhouse, the former Intiman Theater, Center Stage, San Francisco Opera, Seattle Opera, New York City Opera, Dutch National Opera and the Israeli Opera. He counts among his numerous collaborators an eclectic mix of distinguished artists including stage director Peter Sellars, writer/actor Anna Deavere Smith, and the late great jazz drummer Max Roach.

Mr. Byrd has frequently been referred to as a ‘citizen artist’ a descriptive that perfectly aligns with an important component of Spectrum Dance Theater’s mission – “dance as an art form and as a social/ civic instrument.” One of his recent projects for Spectrum was a cycle of three evening-length works that sought, through dance, to stimulate dialogue around a post-9/11, globalized America:  A Chekhovian Resolution (a personal, diary-like reflection on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict), Farewell: A Fantastical Contemplation on America’s Relationship with China (inspired by the novel Beijing Coma from Ma Jian and the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square), and The Mother of Us All (a dense, collage like abstract meditation on contemporary Africa). Other productions for Spectrum that align to this mission are Interrupted Narratives/War (narratives from The Iraqi War) and The Theater of Needless Talents (artists victims of the Holocaust).

His many awards and prizes include 2019 Doris Duke Artist Award, Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from Cornish College of the Arts, Fellow at the Rockefeller Bellagio Center in Italy, The James W. Ray Distinguished Artist Award from Artists Trust, Masters of Choreography Award from The Kennedy Center; Fellow at The American Academy of Jerusalem; James Baldwin Fellow of United States Artists; and the Mayor’s Arts Award for his sustained contributions to the City of Seattle.

From October 12, 2019 - January 26,2020 The Frye Museum in Seattle presented “Donald Byrd: The America That Is To Be”, Byrd’s first solo museum exhibition that covers four decades in which he has created innovative and startling dance theater works.

In addition, he has received numerous grants and awards from many national foundations to support his projects and productions including The Ford Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, New England Foundation, Map Fund, Jerome Foundation, Seattle Foundation, and New York Foundation for the Arts; as well as local and national government agencies including 4Culture, The Seattle Office of Arts and Culture and The National Endowment for the Arts.

Mr. Byrd has served as a Seattle Arts Commissioner, sat on many boards including Dance/USA and Dance Theater Workshop (now New York Live Arts), as well as served on numerous panels including the National Endowment for the Arts and the Tony nominating committee. He regularly teaches around the country and has been a Cultural Envoy for The U.S. Department of State, and was a fellow at the Institute on the Arts and Civic Dialogue based at Harvard. In 2013 he and Spectrum Dance Theater toured South Asia (Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka) as part of DanceMotion/USA, a joint partnership between the State Department and The Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) that presents the best of American dance to international audiences. He returned for a second visit to Bangladesh where he was engaged for a month long collaboration with SHADHONA’ – A Center for the Advancement of South Asian Culture and the US Embassy in Dhaka. Currently, in addition to his work at Spectrum he serves on Stage Directors and Choreographers Society (SDC) Diversity Task Force as well as the SDC Journal–Editorial Board of the Peer Review Section and is working on his memoir.

Dance/USA 2021 ‘Ernie’ Award

Zenetta S. Drew has been Executive Director of Dallas Black Dance Theatre since 1987. During her tenure, Dallas Black Dance Theatre has grown from an annual operating budget of $175,000 to over $4.9 million and has also grown from a community-based organization to a fully professional dance company. Annual services have grown from 30 to over 600 including national and international venues and total audience growth has increased from 20,000 to over 150,000. Under her administrative leadership, the company has performed on some of the world’s most prestigious stages including the Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center, and the Olympics as well as performances for such luminaries as Her Majesty, the Queen and President Nelson Mandela. 

Ms. Drew is the first African American female to receive a BBA in Accounting from Texas A&M University-Commerce and she is the first African American female to be named a Distinguished Alumna in 2016. She is a graduate of Leadership Arts - 1989, Leadership Dallas - 1991, Leadership Texas - 2010 and Leadership International - 2013. She received the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business Influential Leaders award - 2016, North Texas Business Council for the Arts Outstanding Leadership Arts Alumnus award - 2016, International Association of Blacks in Dance Excellence in Management Award - 2017, Dallas Historical Society Award for Arts Leadership - 2018. 

She has served on more than 40 arts organization boards/advisory boards/committees that include Americans for the Arts and SMU/Data Arts and previously served as Board Treasurer for the Cultural Data Project. Ms. Drew is a graduate of The National Arts Strategies-Chief Executive Program and is currently Vice-Chair of the Dallas Arts District, a Board member with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, and holds a position of Adjunct Professor in SMU’s M.A./M.B.A. Arts Management Program where she teaches Strategic Planning in the Arts. 

She has guest-lectured and served on panels and is an arts management consultant on fundraising, financial management, financial ethics, non-profit boards, and organizational management for multiple groups including DeVos Institute of Arts Management, National Endowment for the Arts, Texas Commission on the Arts, the International Association of Blacks in Dance Conference, City of Dallas Office of Arts & Culture, Deeply Rooted Dance Theater, Wallace Foundation, Women in Classical Music – Dallas Symphony Orchestra, The Dallas Morning News, Dallas Institute, SMU, Syracuse University, Le Moyne College, TAMU-Commerce, North Texas Business Council for the Arts, Leadership Dallas, and Leadership America. Prior to joining Dallas Black Dance Theatre, Ms. Drew was a Revenue Accounting Manager where she was responsible for 50% corporate revenue at ARCO Oil & Gas Company. 

Ms. Drew is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. She has two daughters who are 2006 and 2008 MBA graduates of Florida A&M University School of Business and Industry. She is also the proud grandmother to three precious grandchildren. 

Dance/USA 2021 Trustees Award

Photo credit: Alison Bank Photography

Amy Fitterer served as the Executive Director of Dance/USA from 2011 through 2020, after serving as the Director of Government Affairs for Dance/USA and OPERA America. Under her leadership as Executive Director, Dance/USA revised its mission, vision, and values, to champion a more equitable and inclusive dance field. The organization established the Institute for Leadership Training, a national dance mentorship program; created Dance Business Bootcamp to support small budget dance ensembles and independent artists; and launched Dance/USA Fellowships to Artists, awarding over $1 million to 31 artists working in dance and social change, with support from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. Beginning in 2016, Amy oversaw the integration of Dance Heritage Coalition into Dance/USA, expanding core services to the field to include Archiving and Preservation programs, resources, and professional development.

Amy is a former Board Chair of the Performing Arts Alliance, the national policy advocate, leadership forum, and learning network for America’s nonprofit performing arts organizations, artists, and allies. From 2014 – 2018, Amy served on the Advisory Board for the Dizzy Feet Foundation whose mission is to support, improve, and increase access to dance education in the United States. She has served on grant panels for 3Arts, MAP Fund, the Dizzy Feet Foundation, and has enjoyed serving as a speaker, facilitator, and moderator for a variety of national arts conferences, dance organizations, and college dance and arts administration programs including at American University, George Mason University, and the University of South Carolina.

Prior to joining Dance/USA and OPERA America, Amy served as the president of Student Advocates for the Arts, a national club committed to engaging students in cultural policy and lobbying. She has lobbied on the city, state and national level to increase government support for the arts and arts education and has motivated students throughout the country to participate in local advocacy efforts. From 2001 – 2006, Amy performed as a soloist with Peninsula Ballet Theatre and served as the Administrative Director and Piano Instructure for Lisa Spector’s Music School, both in the San Francisco Bay Area. Formerly trained in ballet and classical piano, Amy graduated from the Nutmeg Conservatory for the Arts in Connecticut after 13 years of training and performance in the Vaganova technique. She holds a bachelors degree in piano performance with an outside field in French and a minor in art history from Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, and a masters in arts administration from Teachers College, Columbia University in New York City.

Photo credit: Keya Clairmont

As Executive Director, Grace "SwaHuux" Gillette brings a combination of management and traditional experience to the Denver March Powwow. Grace moved to Denver over 45 years ago with her daughter Avanelle Jo "AJ". Grace is the proud grandmother of Larissa Evelyn No Braid who is a former Denver March Powwow Princess and Lara Jewell No Braid who is a former Denver Indian Center Princess, their mother, AJ, was the first to win the Miss Indian Nations title. 

Ms. Gillette was born and raised on the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota. Her father, George Gillette was a full-blood Arikara. Her mother, Evelyn Wilkinson-Gillette was 3/4 Arikara and 1/4 Norwegian. Her father had the life-time position of Tail Feather Carrier for the Arikara Tribe. This position has been passed on to her brother Russell. Her sister Barbara was inducted into the "War Sister Society." As a result, she has actively participated in the planning of numerous ceremonies and celebrations/dances her entire life. During a ceremony conducted by Cecelia Mason Brown, Ms. Gillette was given her paternal grandmother’s Indian name “SwaHuux” (which translates to Squash) and an eagle plume. She was taken into the dance arena by the late Wendell Irving a Viet Nam combat veteran. Even though Grace resides in Denver, she maintains close ties to her family on the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota. She has been called upon twice to participate in Warbonnet Dances. She was asked by two granddaughters, Ashleigh Indian Star Heavy Gun for Four Bears Princess and Cassidy Smith for White Shield Traveling Princess. Grace enjoys making dancing outfits for her family and young friends to encourage them to dance. She also enjoys restoring and replicating family heirlooms. Because of her knowledge and expertise in making traditional items, she has made special items for organizations or museums. 

Grace has one brother and seven sisters. Russell Gillette, a well-known traditional dancer, retired as a Program Director for the United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck, ND. Shirley Smith, long time story teller for the annual Denver March Powwow, passed away April, 2012. Sylvia Chase passed away December, 1978. Barbara Roy retired from the Indian Health Service in Oklahoma City. Aurelia Gillette passed away in June 2018. Florence Brady works for the Three Affiliated Tribes in New Town, ND. Dr. Sandra Fox retired from the BIA and lives in Albuquerque, NM. Her adopted sister Dr. Denise Lajimodiere retired as an Assistant Professor in the Educational Leadership Department at NDSU. 

Professionally, Grace has more than 40 years of management experience, which includes several years of conference coordination. She has been employed by prominent national organizations, e.g., Manager of Operations for the Council of Energy Resource Tribes. (CERT); Business Manager/Corporate Officer for the Native American Rights Fund (NARF); Office Manager, American Indian Commission on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse; Logistical Support Coordinator/Office Manager, Osoro & Associates. She has been actively involved in the Denver Indian community by serving on Boards of Directors, Speaker, Panelist, Emcee and Head Dancer. Ms. Gillette is also actively involved in the Atonement Lutheran Church, the Fort Berthold Native American Church Chapter, and Dead Grass Society. 

Grace was named in the Denver Business Journal's "Who's Who in Denver Business". She was also named in Strathmore and Marquis Who's Who, and more recently she was selected as one of “Denver’s 150", a special honor recognizing ordinary citizens who are making extraordinary contributions to the Mile High City commemorating Denver’s 150th Birthday. Grace was honored to bestow a traditional blessing upon Mayor Hancock at his first inauguration. Ms. Gillette was humbled when the American Indian College Fund named her "Elder of the Year" at their annual Christmas Dinner. Ms. Gillette was inducted into the 2014 Denver & Colorado Tourism Hall of Fame in March 2014. Inductees are selected on their contributions to the travel industry, their leadership in the industry, and the degree of professionalism they bring to their work. Grace gave the Keynote Address for the Martin Luther King, Jr., Awards Luncheon which provided an opportunity to share her culture. In the 32 years of the event, she was the second woman and first Native American to be keynote speaker. Ms. Gillette is a graduate of Berea Foundation School, Berea, KY and Haskell Institute, Lawrence, KS. Her background is unique and invaluable in guiding the successful operation of the Denver March Powwow for the past 30 years

Read more about the Dance/USA Awards and view past honorees.