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Dance Magazine Contributors Spill on Their Dance Favorite Moments of 2017

The Museum Workout, PC Paula Lobo

Liveliest Revival: Merce Cunningham's Sounddance

Ballet de Lorraine in Sounddance. PC Laurent Philippe, Courtesy Richard Kornberg & Associates

When Ballet de Lorraine came to The Joyce Theater in February, the dancers looked transformed—electrified—by the final work on the program. The piece was Merce Cunningham's Sounddance, a tour-de-force from 1975 in which the dancers ricochet about the stage without stopping for 17 minutes. The audience held its breath until it was over. Then in June the Merce Cunningham Trust staged Sounddance in New York City with young dancers from Juilliard, Purchase, Ailey and other programs. The results received a whooping ovation. Almost a decade since Cunningham's death, the work's propulsive power is undimmed. —Marina Harss, writer

Most Versatile Soloist: Aakash Odedra

Aakash Odedra. PC Christopher Duggan, Courtesy Jacob's Pillow

Aakash Odedra slipped into the Doris Duke Theater at Jacob's Pillow this summer with a solo debut show called Rising, an apt way to describe his career momentum. Odedra is both a virtuosic kathak dancer and a smart curator, as he assembled works by global iconoclasts Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Akram Khan and Russell Maliphant, revealing a protean ability to enter each dancemaker's world. Odedra opened the show with a stripped down kathak piece, showing off his attention to rhythm, shape and the malleability of tradition. To witness his extremely light and un-muscled approach throughout the evening proved an astonishing experience. —Nancy Wozny, writer

Most Powerful Documentary: Bronx Gothic

Bronx Gothic. Courtesy Grasshopper Film

Bronx Gothic, directed by Andrew Rossi and based on Okwui Okpokwasili's performance of the same name, grants the choreographer and performer's audience intimate access into her process, including her family life and the struggles and triumphs of being a mother. The film is a reminder that in order to produce meaningful dance, you have to dig deeper than you might anticipate during the initial planning. There is so much power that drives Okpokwasili's work, and Bronx Gothic lets us see the blood, sweat and tears that go into that. —Kelsey Grills, assistant editor, audience engagement

Most Surprising Performance: Catherine Hurlin in Whipped Cream

Hurlin in Whipped Cream. PC Doug Gifford, Courtesy ABT

In Alexei Ratmansky's fantastical Whipped Cream, American Ballet Theatre's Catherine Hurlin was just as bubbly as the champagne she represented. Until this spring's premiere, the crisp technician was known for her more polite performances, but here she was vivacious, fun, enticing. In a show that's full of visual spectacle, I kept being drawn back to Hurlin's antics. Who knew this corps dancer had such comedic flair? —Madeline Schrock, managing editor

Best Non-Dancing on Broadway: Come From Away, Indecent and Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812

Indecent. PC Carol Rosegg, Courtesy Connecticut College

The line separating choreography from musical staging became thinner in 2017. Three musicals put non-dancers front and center and made them look like experts. The actual experts were Kelly Devine, David Dorfman and Sam Pinkleton, expanding Broadway choreography with ordinary moves used in extraordinary ways. Their exuberant dances in Come From Away, Indecent and Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 were utterly distinctive and impossible to extricate from their contexts—a Newfoundland town caught up in the aftermath of 9/11, Jewish actors re-enacting history and a boisterous rendition of War and Peace. —Sylviane Gold, On Broadway columnist

Most Relevant Ballet: Justin Peck's The Times Are Racing

The Times Are Racing. PC Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB

The Times Are Racing is a sneaker ballet in the Robbins tradition with the choreographic inside jokes typical of Justin Peck's work. But it's also wholly contemporary and undeniably reflective of the world we live in now. I loved that the leads were created to be gender neutral, that Peck danced in the original cast and that his duet with Robert Fairchild anchored the ballet. But mostly I loved how recognizable it was as a creative 20-something living in New York City: the anxiety, the friendships, the solidarity, the individuality. —Courtney Escoyne, assistant editor

Zaniest Idea That Totally Worked: Monica Bill Barnes' The Museum Workout

The Museum Workout. PC Paula Lobo, Courtesy Metropolitan Museum

The Museum Workout could have just been a fun gimmick. But Monica Bill Barnes & Company's aerobic journey through the Metropolitan Museum of Art felt not only subversive, but surprisingly poignant. By breaking the rules of expected conduct—doing squats to the Bee Gees while looking at Madame X instead of quietly discussing it with companions—this project made me rethink the whole museum experience, and even wonder what other parts of my life could be improved with some cardio. —Jennifer Stahl, editor in chief

Most Successful Ballet as Theater: Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's A Streetcar Named Desire

A Streetcar Named Desire. PC Andy Ross, Courtesy Scottish Ballet

The Scottish Ballet's production of A Streetcar Named Desire made its West Coast premiere in Los Angeles in May, and Tennessee Williams' classic play came to life with all the poetry and tragedy that ballet demonstrates in peak form. By collaborating with theater director Nancy Heckler, choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa wove a complex portrait of Blanche Dubois, including her vital backstory. It's an idea for a ballet that could have gone wrong in every way, but instead emerged brilliantly with the luminous Eve Mutso as the ill-fated protagonist. This production, led by women, shed a light on a 20th-century play from a 21st-century feminist perspective. —Joseph Carman, writer

Boldest Site-Specific Performance: Solange's An Ode To

Solange's An Ode To. PC Carys Huws, Courtesy Red Bull Content Pool

Recording artist and indie music world icon Solange's An Ode To in the Guggenheim Museum's rotunda was nothing short of magical. She demanded that we be fully present the moment we entered the room, having all phones checked at the door and requesting that audience members wear white. Solange's own choreography—performed by an army of black women and occasionally by her super-groovy band—at some points felt like an homage to Trisha Brown. But at other moments, she completely let loose, twerking on the floor, sprinting through the audience. It was beyond special to see postmodern dance used by a high-profile artist in a way that made it an essential partner to the music and the experience. —Lauren Wingenroth, assistant editor

Most Exciting Debut: Sarah Lane in Giselle

Lane in Giselle. PC Erin Baiano, Courtesy ABT

Sarah Lane seemingly did the impossible by making a 19th-century ballet feel completely fresh and modern—and during her New York City debut as Giselle, no less. She was technically pristine, with jumps that soared and arabesque lines held until the last second. Her acting was equally impressive: From starry-eyed innocence, as she falls in love with Albrecht, to heart-wrenching devastation when she learns of his engagement and later protects him from the wilis, Lane swept the audience into the story along with her. —Marissa DeSantis, assistant editor

Find out what Dance Magazine readers chose as their favorite performances of the year here.

Irina Dvorovenko's latest role: Playing Elizaveta Grushinskaya in Grand Hotel at New York City Center. Photo by Joan Marcus, Courtesy New York City Center.

Whether playing a saucy soubrette or an imperious swan, Irina Dvorovenko was always a formidable presence on the American Ballet Theatre stage. Since her 2013 retirement at 39, after 16 seasons, she's been bringing that intensity to an acting career in roles ranging from, well, Russian ballerinas to the Soviet-era newcomer she plays in the FX spy series "The Americans."

We caught up with her after tech rehearsal for the Encores! presentation of the musical Grand Hotel, directed and choreographed by Josh Rhodes and running March 21–25 at New York City Center. It's another tempestuous ballerina role for Dvorovenko—Elizaveta Grushinskaya, on her seventh farewell tour, resentfully checks into the Berlin hostelry of the title with her entourage, only to fall for a handsome young baron and sing "Bonjour, Amour."

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Breaking Stereotypes
Photos via Instagram

When Andrew Montgomery first saw the Las Vegas hit Le Rêve - The Dream 10 years ago, he knew he had to be a part of the show one day. Eight years later, he auditioned, and made it to the last round of cuts. On his way home, still waiting to hear whether he'd been cast, he was in a motorcycle accident that ended up costing him half his leg.

But Montgomery's story doesn't end the way you might think. Today, he's a cast member of Le Rêve, where he does acrobatics and aerial work, swims (yes, the show takes places in and around a large pool) and dances, all with his prosthetic leg.

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Health & Body
Via Instagram

When you spend as much time on the road as The Royal Ballet's Steven McRae, getting access to a proper gym can be a hassle. To stay fit, the Australian-born principal turns to calisthenics—the old-school art of developing aerobic ability and strength with little to no equipment.

"It's basically just using your own body weight," McRae explains. "In terms of partnering, I'm not going to dance with a ballerina who is bigger than me, so if I can sustain my own body weight, then in my head I should be fine."

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Rant & Rave
Is this the turning point when we'll finally see an end to dancer mistreatment? Photo by Gez Xavier Mansfield/Unsplash

Last week in a piece I wrote about the drama at English National Ballet, I pointed out that many of the accusations against artistic director Tamara Rojo—screaming at dancers, giving them the silent treatment, taking away roles without explanation—were, unfortunately, pretty standard practice in the ballet world:

If it's a conversation we're going to have, we can't only point the finger at ENB.

The line provoked a pretty strong response. Professional dancers, students and administrators reached out to me, making it clear that it's a conversation they want to have. Several shared their personal stories of experiencing abusive behavior.

Christopher Hampson, artistic director of the Scottish Ballet, wrote his thoughts about the issue on his company's website on Monday:

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Cover Story
Jayme Thornton

Camille A. Brown is on an impressive streak: In October, the Ford Foundation named her an Art of Change fellow. In November, she won an AUDELCO ("Viv") Award for her choreography in the musical Bella: An American Tall Tale. On December 1, her Camille A. Brown & Dancers made its debut at the Kennedy Center, and two days later she was back in New York City to see her choreography in the opening of Broadway's Once on This Island. Weeks later, it was announced that she was choreographing NBC's live television musical Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert, to air on April 1.

An extraordinarily private person, few knew that during this time Brown was in the midst of a health crisis. It started with an upset stomach while performing with her company on tour last summer.

"I was drinking ginger ale, thinking that I would feel better," she says. Finally, the pain became so acute that she went to the emergency room in Mississippi. Her appendix had burst. "Until then, I didn't know it was serious," she says. "I'm a dancer—aches and pains don't keep you from work."

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Breaking Stereotypes
Ballez class staples include no mirrors and barres arranged in a circle. Photo by Elyssa Goodman, Courtesy Pyle

A flock of polyamorous princes, a chorus of queer dying swans, a dominatrix witch: These are a few of the characters that populate the works of Katy Pyle, who, with her Brooklyn-based company Ballez, has been uprooting ballet's gender conventions since 2011.

Historically, ballet has not allowed for the expression of lesbian, transgender or gender-nonconforming identities. With Ballez, Pyle is reinventing the classical canon on more inclusive terms. Her work stems from a deep love of ballet and, at the same time, a frustration with its limits on acceptable body types and on the stories it traditionally tells.

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Health & Body
Take your self-massage to the next level. Photo of TheraGun G2PRO via Amazon

The latest fitness fad has us literally buzzing. Vibrating tools—and exercise classes—promise added benefits to your typical workout and recovery routine, and they're only growing more popular.

Warning: These good vibrations don't come cheap.

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Advice for Dancers
Losing a dance company can be like losing part of your family. Photo by Thinkstock.

My life is in complete chaos since my dance company disbanded. I have a day job, so money isn't the issue. It's the loss of my world that stings the most. What can I do?

—Lost Career, Washington, DC

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In The Studio
Dance Theatre of Harlem performing Dougla. Photo by Matha Swope, courtesy DTH.

Dance Theatre of Harlem is busy preparing for the company's Vision Gala on April 4. The works on the program, which takes place on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., reflect on the legacy of Dr. King and his impact on company founder Arthur Mitchell. Among them is the much-anticipated revival of legendary choreographer Geoffrey Holder's Dougla, which will include live music and dancers from Collage Dance Collective.

We stepped into the studio with Holder's wife Carmen de Lavallade and son Leo Holder to hear what it feels like to keep Holder's legacy alive and what de Lavallade thinks of the recent rise in kids standing up against the government—as she did not too long ago.

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Dance As Activism
Nathalia Arja as the Novice in Jerome Robbins' The Cage. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, courtesy Miami City Ballet

The encounter with man-eating female creatures in Jerome Robbins' The Cage never fails to shock audiences. As this tribe of insects initiates the newly-born Novice into their community and prepares her for the attack of the male Intruders, the ballet draws us into a world of survival and instinct.

This year celebrates the 100th anniversary of Jerome Robbins' birth, and a number of Robbins programs are celebrating his timeless repertoire. But it especially feels like a prime moment to experience The Cage again. Several companies are performing it: San Francisco Ballet begins performances on March 20, followed by the English National Ballet in April and New York City Ballet in May.

Why it matters: In this time of female empowerment—as women are supporting one another in vocalizing injustices, demanding fair treatment and pay, and advocating for future generations—The Cage's nest of dominant women have new significance.

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