Dance Master Elbert Watson has received the Virginia Arts Festival’s highest recognition, the Ovation Award, which honors the lifetime achievement of artists with a special connection to the Hampton Roads area.
The award was presented on April 29 by Rob Cross, the Virginia Arts Festival's executive and artistic director. Cross and other speakers at the award luncheon at the Slover Library reflected on the myriad ways that Mr. Watson’s dancing, choreography, mentorship, and teaching have changed the lives of children and adults at Norfolk Academy, in Hampton Roads, and around the world.
In the decades since his meteoric rise in the 1970s as one of the youngest principal dancers for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Mr. Watson has continued to choreograph and perform in Hampton Roads and around the globe, even as he provides innovative instruction in dance and flexibility training for athletes at Norfolk Academy. His imaginative work fosters education and healing on difficult topics; he has created dances about the Holocaust, Vietnam veterans and PTSD, and race relations, including a dance to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performed and offered workshops as part of the Arts Festival, and the group's associate artistic director Matthew Rushing spoke about the inspiration he found in discovering some of Mr. Watson’s performances online. He watched certain dances repeatedly.
“I saw myself in you, and I saw what I wanted to become,” he said. “I saw someone taking something he loves and turning it into a vehicle for loving others.”
In his remarks, Mr. Watson said that life has taught him three things: humility, how to forgive, and how to listen, and he added, “Life is short, but life is long enough to do God’s will.”