Wendy Perron’s Best of 2016
The following list is limited by where and when I was able to see dance.
New Choreography (World, U. S. and company premieres)
- Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker’s Vortex Temporum, at BAM’s Next Wave Festival. Her group Rosas accumulates a fierce momentum shared by the band Ictus, playing composer Gérard Grisey’s score emphasizing the transformation of pure sound. Chalk circles on the floor help you follow how the music and dance careen in intersecting orbits.
Vortex Temporum, photo by Robert Altman
- The Winter’s Tale by Christopher Wheeldon, co-commissioned by The Royal Ballet and National Ballet of Canada and performed at Lincoln Center Festival. Finally, a new story ballet that makes you care about the characters—and with a terrific new score by Joby Talbot. Clever storytelling about a monstrous jealousy, but ending in a measure of peace. (I discussed why I think this ballet will last.)
- Figure a Sea by Deborah Hay, at Peak Performances in Montclair, NJ. Originally made for Sweden’s Cullberg Ballet, it sets out an expanse of constant change among 20 intermingling dancers, like a nighttime sky with stars that twinkle here and there. When you catch a falling star, you don’t know where it started from.
- Murmuration by Edwaard Liang, with music by Ezio Bosso, company premiere for BalletMet in Columbus, OH and originally made for Houston Ballet in 2012. Inspired by the astonishing patterns created by starling migrations, this ballet has sweeping group sections, inventive duets, and a cumulative power. It deserved the standing ovation.
- Catacomb by Beth Gill at The Chocolate Factory. Flesh moving over flesh with intentional stillness—or the illusion of stillness, or at least stubbornly unending patience. With music by Jon Moniaci and lighting by Thomas Dunn, Catacomb immerses us in a spare, slow and unpredictable world. There is something deathly about it—I mean besides the title—and yet very much alive.
Beth Gill's Catacomb, photo by Brian Rogers
- Badke at Live Ideas Festival, “MENA/Future – Cultural Transformations in the Middle East North Africa Region,” at New York Live Arts. Choreographed by Koen Augustijnen, Rosalba Torres Guerrero and Hildegard De Vuyst of Les Ballets C de la B in collaboration with a group of young Palestinians of different backgrounds. Rough, raw and giddy, sometimes coalescing into warm folk dance, then breaking up into mayhem. Part celebration, part resistance, this piece has the fierceness of early Wim Vandekeybus.
- Monchichi, by Wang Ramirez, the duo consisting of Korean-German Honji Wang and French-Spanish Sébastien Ramirez. The piece, performed at BAM's Next Wave Festival, was a nifty mix of hip-hop, martial arts, a Beckettian tree, a platinum wig and some crazy daring maneuvers.
Monchichi, with Wang and Ramierez, photo by Julieta Cervantes
- Analogy/Dora: Tramontane, commissioned by Peak Performances, with the NYC premiere at the Joyce. The Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company combines the stories of Holocaust survivor Dora Amelan with Jones’ signature shape-shifting. The dancers recite the story of her escape with great sensitivity, avoiding sentimentality. Bjorn Amelan (Dora’s son) contributes flats and boxes that keep the story moving. Jones has made a work of art from genocide, and that’s quite an accomplishment.
- Faye Driscoll's Thank You for Coming: Play, at BAM’s Next Wave Festival. (She was on my 2014 list, too). Driscoll’s six dancers tap into their inner crazy selves—wailing, lamenting, misbehaving—but there’s a rigor underneath it all. And there was a special element of audience involvement.
- Walking Mad, a company premiere for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater by Johan Inger, set to music by Maurice Ravel and Arvo Pärt. A man meets a woman hanging out her laundry, and a surreal dream tumbles onto the stage. A giddy romp with ingenious use of a big wall and doors. Invigorating and fun.
Walking Mad, with Rachael McLaren and Chalvar Monteiro, photo © Paul Kolnik
- Crystal Pite’s Solo Echo, seen by both Ballet BC at the Joyce and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago at Jacob’s Pillow. A scattered and dark first half yields to a poignant second half that expresses an infinitely tender sense of loss.
- Tristesse by Marcelo Gomes, set to Chopin, performed at the Ardani 25 Dance Gala at NY City Center. A playful quartet for men turns from show-off-y to stormy to sad, all supported by a wonderful camaraderie.
- Nora Chipaumire's portrait of myself as my father, at BAM Fishman Space. She takes on a boisterous, humiliated black manhood, imagining what her father endured in Zimbabwe. The snarling and swaggering give way to compassion, but along the way we are alarmed as much as entertained.
This was a great year for choreography on Broadway. Some musicals featured full-out, space-eating choreography: Hofesh Shechter for Fiddler on the Roof; Sergio Trujillo for On Your Feet!; Savion Glover for Shuffle Along; and Andy Blankenbuehler for Hamilton. Others depended on functional movement that enhanced the story: Sergio Trujillo for A Bronx Tale (for more on Trujillo, see his "Choreography in Focus."); Lorin Latarro for Waitress, Spencer Liff for Spring Awakening; Kathleen Marshall for In Transit.
- Craig Wasserman of Pennsylvania Ballet at the Joyce. A dream of a dancer who is compelling when simply lifting an arm. He’s an ardent partner, making you believe he really loves the one he’s with. Trey McIntyre gave him a knock-out solo in The Accidental that I’d love to see again.
- New York City Ballet’s Taylor Stanley in both Ratmansky’s Pictures at an Exhibition and Justin Peck’s Everywhere We Go: Windblown, bursting with energy, joy and freedom.
- Jonathan Porretta of Pacific Northwest Ballet in Balanchine’s Prodigal Son at New York City Center: Bold, kinetic, larger than life, itching to break free.
- Doron Perk, wild and lanky, was a fresh, arresting presence in Zvi Gotheiner’s On the Road at BAM.
Doron Perk in On the Road, photo by Ian Douglas
- The octogenarian Valda Setterfield as King Lear in John Scott’s Lear at NY Live Arts. Elegant, stoic, veiled emotion, speaking and moving from the gut. An excellent portrayal of a creeping bewilderment.
- Aaron Mattocks in Big Dance: Short Form, a mixed bill from Big Dance Theater at The Kitchen. Fierce and inventive in Short Ride Out, archly flamboyant and supercilious as Samuel Pepys in the 17th-century Art of Dancing while keeping each movement crystal clear.
- National Ballet of Canada’s Xiao Nan Yu as Paulina in Wheeldon’s The Winter’s Tale. Every move speaks of caring and compassion as well as beautiful ballet lines. She carries the wisdom of the story in her body.
- Skylar Brandt as the Golden Cockerel in the new ABT ballet of the same name by Alexei Ratmansky. If anyone can kill a king in a single, swoop-down peck, it’s Skylar Brandt.
- Most romantic onstage couple: Alessandra Ferri and Herman Cornejo. They appeared together in ABT’s Romeo and Juliet—her comeback as Juliet, bringing ecstatic fans (I was one of them) to the Metropolitan Opera House. If I’m not mistaken, she stole an unplanned kiss in the ballroom scene. They paired again in Wayne McGregor’s new Witness, commissioned by Fall for Dance. Here they were less fevered but still with great chemistry.
- Logan Pachciarz. A magnetic presence at Kansas City Ballet. I caught him in his last performance with the company at the Kauffman Center in Kansas City. In Helen Pickett’s Petal, you could discern a sly sense of humor just beneath the strong, clean dancing.
- NYCB soloist Ashley Laracey: Quicksilver in petit allegro, luscious in slow steps, she shone in Tory Schumacher’s new Common Ground and Peter Martins’ Ash. (She was an “On the Rise” in 2012.)
- As the first to walk on, Darrin Wright sets the pace and purpose of Jane Comfort’s You Are Here, presented by American Dance Institute at The Kitchen. Near the end, he improvises a juicy, softly desperate solo.
- Ailey’s Matthew Rushing in Ron Brown’s Ife / My Heart, at Fall for Dance at NY City Center. Wearing white, his whole body shimmers with devoutness.
- Josie G. Sadan in Brenda Way and KT Nelson’s epic boulders and bone at UCLA’s Royce Hall. Commanding, sharp coordination and stamina.
- Brandon Washington in Thank You for Coming: PLay (see above). His tantrum (“Where is my mom?”) catches at the heart: it is simultaneously heart-rending and funny.
Brandon Washington, left (Sean Donovan, right) in Thank You For Coming: Play, photo by Julieta Cervantes
- Best longterm series: Platform 2016: A Body in Places, in which Eiko Otake explored partnerships with other dancers and with the environment of the Lower East Side. She’s a portable, poetic requiem wherever she goes. Witnessing a performance of hers is an experience you don't easily forget.
Eiko Otake on sidewalk, photo by Ian Douglas
- Lighting design: Lenore Doxsee made a light into a sculptural element of John Jasperse’s Remains, a collage of art moments, at BAM. The reflections of a pearly dress makes the floor shimmer like a treasure chest. A horizontal beam suddenly takes on a saturated red, dividing the space into warm and cool.
- Best unearthing: Russian filmmaker Alla Kovgan discovered an old reel of a 1958 Merce Cunningham performance in the storage bins of Norddeutscher Rundfunk Studio in Hamburg. The archival film includes Changeling (1957) and excerpts from Suite for Two and Springweather and People, making it possible for former Cunningham dancer Jean Freebury to reconstruct Changeling and Springweather at Baryshnikov Arts Center.
- Best socially conscious soundtrack: Kyle Abraham's Untitled America for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater has us listening to the voices of people who have been incarcerated or relatives of inmates. We know from statistics that America puts an inordinate number of black men behind bars. Abraham brought this tragedy into the theater. Laura Mvula's song "Father Father" had everyone in tears.
The dancers file into an audition room. They are given a number and asked to wait for registration to finish before the audition starts. At the end of the room, behind a table and a computer (and probably a number of mobile devices), there I sit, doing audio tests and updating the audition schedule as the room fills up with candidates. The dancers, more nervous than they need to be, see me, typing, perhaps teasing my colleagues, almost certainly with a coffee cup at my side.
By itself, a competition trophy won't really prepare you for professional life. Sometimes it is not even a plus. "Some directors are afraid that a kid who wins a lot of medals will come to their company with too many expectations," says Youth America Grand Prix artistic director Larissa Saveliev. "Directors want to mold young dancers to fit their company."
More valuable than taking home a title from a competition is the exposure you can get and the connections you can make while you're there. But how can you take advantage of the opportunity?
New York Live Arts opens its 2017-18 season with A Love Supreme, a revised work by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and collaborator Salva Sanchis. Known as a choreographer of pure form, pattern and musicality, De Keersmaeker can bring a visceral power to the stage without the use of narrative. She has taken this 2005 work to John Coltrane's famous jazz score of the same title and recast it for four young men of her company Rosas, giving it an infusion of new energy.
Photo by Anne Van Aerschot
Before too long, dancers and choreographers will get to create on the luxurious 170-acre property in rural Connecticut that is currently home to legendary visual artist Jasper Johns.
If you think that sounds far more glamorous than your average choreographic retreat, you're right. Though there are some seriously generous opportunities out there, this one seems particularly lavish.
Every dancer has learned—probably the hard way—that healthy feet are the foundation of a productive and happy day in the studio. As dancers, our most important asset has to carry the weight (literally) of everything we do. So it's not surprising that most professional dancers have foot care down to an art.
Three dancers shared their foot-care products they can't live without.
Dancers trying their hand at designing is nothing new. But they do tend to stick with studio or performance-wear (think Miami City Ballet's Ella Titus and her line of knit warm-ups or former NYCB dancer Janie Taylor and her ballet costumes). But several dancers at American Ballet Theatre—corps members Jamie Kopit, Erica Lall, Katie Boren, Katie Williams, Lauren Post, Zhong-Jing Fang and soloist Cassandra Trenary—are about to launch a fashion line that's built around designs that can be worn outside of the studio. Titled Company Cooperative, the luxe line of women's wear is handmade in New York City's garment district and designed by the dancers themselves.
Royal Ballet dancers Yasmine Naghdi and Beatriz Stix-Brunell recently got together for a different kind of performance: no decadent costumes, sets, stage makeup or lighting. Instead, the principal and first soloist danced choreography by principal character artist Kristen McNally in a stark studio.
The movement is crystal clear, and at the beginning, Naghdi and Stix-Brunell duck and weave around each other with near vacant stares. Do they even know they have a partner? And how should they interact? The situation raises a much larger question: How often do we see a female duet in ballet?
As a student, Milwaukee native John Neumeier appeared in an opera at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. As Hamburg Ballet's artistic director and one of the world's leading choreographers, Neumeier now returns to the Midwest to direct and choreograph a new version of Gluck's Orphée et Eurydice, a co-production of the Lyric Opera, LA Opera and Hamburg State Opera. Set to open in Chicago September 23 with the Joffrey Ballet, the ambitious work will see additional engagements in Los Angeles and Hamburg over the next two years.
How did you come to be involved with this collaboration?
It was initiated by the director of the Lyric Opera, Anthony Freud, but I had already been in contact with Ashley Wheater about a separate project with the Joffrey Ballet. The two things came together—and this was really interesting to me because Chicago was important at the start of my career. I was born in Milwaukee, but most of my training was in or near Chicago.
You've previously created version of Orpheus for Hamburg Ballet. What about this particular production caught your interest?
When I got this offer from Anthony, I just went back to the piece and tried to sense what it meant to me now. Gluck's Orphée was part of a push to reform opera and to make a complete work of art involving music, text and dance. What interests me—particularly in this French version we are doing—is that dance plays such an essential role. When Agnes de Mille choreographed Oklahoma!, it was considered a revolution in musical theater, because dance moved the plot along. In Orphée, we can see that the same idea had been realized several centuries ago: that dance would not be just a divertissement, but a theatrical element, literally "moving" the plot along and expressing in another form the emotion of each situation.
Another idea in Orphée which fascinates me is its directness in projecting profound human emotions—emotions not used as an excuse for vocal virtuosity, but expressed in simple and direct musical terms. In Orphée, we have a mythical subject which is related in an extremely relevant, familiar, human way.