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 Originally made for Sweden’s Cullberg Ballet, it sets out an expanse of constant change among 20 intermingling dancers, like a nighttime sky with stars that twinkle here and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- Murmuration by Edwaard Liang, with music by Ezio Bosso, company premiere for BalletMet in Columbus, OH and originally made for Houston Ballet in 2012.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.
It's no secret that affording college is a challenge for many students. And for dancers, there are added complications, like the relative lack of merit scholarships that take artistic talent into consideration and the improbability of a stable salary to pay off loans post-graduation. But no matter your budget, a smart approach to the application process can help you focus less on money and more on your training.
According to Drexel University performing arts department head Miriam Giguere, figuring out the kind of financial assistance a school offers is just as important as navigating what kind of dance program you want. Here's how to incorporate finances into your decision-making process:
When dancers get injured, they often think they should eat less. The thought process goes something like, Since I'm not able to move as much as I usually do, I'm not burning enough calories to justify the portions I'm used to.
But the truth is, scaling back your meals could actually be detrimental to your healing process.
With her fearless demeanor onstage, it's easy to see how Washington Ballet apprentice Sarah Steele attracted the keen eye of former American Ballet Theatre stars Julie Kent and Ethan Stiefel. Promoted mid-season from the studio company by artistic director Kent, Steele was cast by Stiefel as the lead in Frontier, his world premiere for The Washington Ballet, this past spring. For the space-themed piece, Steele donned a black-and-white "space suit" onstage, exhibiting dual qualities of strength and grace. Most evocative about Steele's dancing might be her innate intelligence—she was accepted to Harvard on early admission, and plans to resume her studies there in the future. But first, she'll dance.
Lots of college groups do stepping—a form of body percussion based on slapping, tapping and stomping—but Step Afrika! is the first professional dance company to do it. They are currently at New York City's New Victory Theater, presenting The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence, a show based on the painting series by Harlem Renaissance artist Jacob Lawrence about The Great Migration of the 1900s, when millions of African Americans fled the Jim Crow South and traveled by train to the North for a better life. The Great Migration transformed the demographics of the country, and Jacob Lawrence's paintings became famous for their bold color and evocative power.
We always figured that stretching made us more flexible by loosening up our muscles and joints. Some of us, ahem, might have even tried to fall asleep in our middle splits to get our stubbornly stiff inner thighs to let go.
But it turns out that might not actually be how stretching works.
A new review published in the Scandinavian Journal of Science & Medicine in Sports suggests that increased flexibility actually comes from your brain growing more used to the tension.
Efficient movement is easy to recognize—we all know when we see a dancer whose every action seems essential and unmannered. Understanding how to create this effect, however, is far more elusive. From a practical perspective, dancing with efficiency helps you to conserve your energy and minimize wear and tear on the body; from an artistic point of view, it allows you to make big impressions out of little moments, and lasting memories for those watching.
So much struggle and determination goes into your training that it can be difficult for early-career dancers to recalibrate their priorities toward simplicity and ease, says Laurel Jenkins, freelance performer and Trisha Brown Dance Company staging artist. "Your aesthetic might shift, and you might have to find new things beautiful." Mastering the art of effortless movement requires a new perspective and a smart strategy—on- and offstage.
As we approach Thanksgiving, there's much to be grateful for. Perhaps one of the most important things on your list is dance. Whether you're a full-time company member, an aspiring professional, an audience member, or you simply delight in dancing in your daydreams, this art form is a creative escape.
That's not to say that being a dancer is easy: Pursuing such a competitive career can be heartbreaking, especially when you're faced with rejection.
La Folía, a short dance film by director Adam Grannick that was recently released online, echoes these sentiments in under 12 minutes.
It took two years of intense nutrition counseling and psychotherapy to pull me out of being anorexic. My problem now is that I've gained too much weight from eating normally. Is there no middle ground? I can't fit into my clothes, but I don't want to go back to being sick.
—Former Anorexic, Weston, CT
Whatever your feelings about Wayne McGregor's heady, hyper-physical choreography, we can all probably agree on one thing: We'd really, really love to pick his brain. And tomorrow, Dance Umbrella, a UK-based dance festival, is giving everyone the chance to do exactly that.
"Women are often presented as soft, fragile little creatures in ballet," says Léonore Baulac. "We're not." The Paris Opéra Ballet's newest female étoile is discussing her unease at some of the 19th-century narratives she portrays. "It was real acting," she says with a laugh of La Sylphide. "James kills her by taking away her wings, yet she tells him not to worry and goes to die elsewhere onstage!"
Sitting in the canteen of the Palais Garnier, Baulac embodies some of ballet's contradictions in the 21st century. With her fair curls and dainty features, she could easily pass for a little girl's fantasy princess. As Juliet, she exuded a girlish ardor that felt entirely natural; her reservations notwithstanding, her Sylphide was committed and carefully Romantic in style.
Yet the 27-year-old is no ingénue. At Garnier that day, her sweater reads "I can't believe I still have to protest this s**t," a feminist slogan; last winter, Baulac proudly wore it over a Kitri tutu on Instagram. And her repertoire is as thoroughly modern as she is offstage. A versatile performer even by Parisian standards, she is equally at home in Nutcracker as she is in the works of Pina Bausch and Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker.