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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 Originally made for Sweden’s Cullberg Ballet, it sets out an expanse of constant change among 20 intermingling dancers, like a nighttime sky with stars that twinkle here and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- Murmuration by Edwaard Liang, with music by Ezio Bosso, company premiere for BalletMet in Columbus, OH and originally made for Houston Ballet in 2012.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.
My dance coach wants my word that I'll keep competing under his school's name for the next year and not audition. I'm 18 years old and already doing lead roles and winning medals. I love his teaching, but shouldn't I be ready to go out and get a job?
—Gil, Las Vegas, NV
How do we make ballet, a traditionally homogeneous art form, relevant to and reflective of an increasingly diverse and globalized era? While established companies are shifting slowly, Richard Siegal/Ballet of Difference, though less than 2 years old, has something of a head start. The guiding force of the company, which is based in Germany, is bringing differences together in the same room and, ultimately, on the same stage.
Before she became the 20th century's most revered ballet pedagogue, Agrippina Vaganova was a frustrated ballerina. "I was not progressing and that was a terrible thing to realize," she wrote in a rough draft of her memoirs.
She retired from the Imperial Ballet stage in 1916, and for the next 30-plus years, devoted herself to creating a "science of ballet." Her new, dynamic teaching method produced stars like Rudolf Nureyev, Alla Osipenko, and Galina Ulanova and later Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov. And her approach continues to influence how we think about ballet training to this day.
But is the ballet class due for an update? Demands and aesthetics have changed. So should the way dancers train change too?
For many dancers, a "warmup" consists of sitting on the floor stretching their legs in various positions. But this strategy only reduces your muscles' ability to work properly—it negatively affects your strength, endurance, balance and speed for up to an hour.
Save your flexibility training for the end of the day. Instead, follow a warmup that will actually help prevent injury and improve your body's performance.
According to the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science, a smart warmup has four parts: "a gentle pulse-raising section, a joint mobilization section, a muscle lengthening section and a strength/balance building section."
Claude Debussy's only completed opera, Pelléas et Mélisande, emphasizes clarity and subtlety over high-flung drama as a deadly love triangle unfolds. Opera Vlaanderen and Royal Ballet of Flanders are commemorating the 100th anniversary of the composer's death with a new production of the landmark opera that is sure to be anything but traditional: Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Damien Jalet are choreographing and directing, while boundary-pushing performance artist Marina Abramović collaborates on the design. Antwerp, Feb. 2–13. Ghent, Feb. 23–March 4. operaballet.be/en.
Black History Month offers a time to reflect on the artists who have shaped the dance field as we know it today. But equally important is celebrating the black artists who represent the next generation. These seven up-and-comers are making waves across all kinds of styles and across the country:
When a new director began transforming Atlanta Ballet a couple of years ago, longtime dancer Alessa Rogers decided to finally explore her dream of dancing in Europe. "I always had this wanderlust," she says. She wasn't set on a particular city or company, but thought learning French would be fun. She began her research that September, making note of repertoire and the number of dancers as well as which companies employed foreign, non–European Union dancers. "I saw that Ballet du Rhin was looking for dancers," says Rogers. "They also had a new director coming in, so I thought it could be an opportunity." After sending a video, Rogers traveled during her layoff week to take company class. She was offered a job on the spot.
Uprooting and moving out of the country, far away from your support system, language and customs, is not something to take lightly. While it can push you as an artist and be an exciting opportunity for personal growth, working as a dancer in a foreign country comes with its challenges. Lots of research and an adventurous spirit are required.
Justin Lynch is surprisingly nonchalant about the struggles of being a full-time lawyer and a professional dancer. "All dancers in New York City are experts at juggling multiple endeavors," he says. "What I'm doing is no different from what any other dancer does—it's just that what I'm juggling is different."
While we agree that freelance dancers are pro multitaskers, we don't really buy Lynch's claim that what he does isn't extraordinary. In fact, we're pretty mind-boggled by the career he's built for himself.
At the annual Gala de Danza in Los Cabos, Mexico, the lineup of performers is usually pretty typical gala fare: You can expect celebrity performers like Lil Buck, reality stars like Ballet West's Beckanne Sisk and "So You Think You Can Dance" finalist Tate McRae, plus principals from top companies like New York City Ballet's Tiler Peck and Daniel Ulbricht.
What's absolutely not typical? The venue.
At 5'10" I felt like an ant in the studio with Alonzo King LINES Ballet. The San Francisco-based company is full of statuesque dancers whose passion is infectious. Every story was told not only through their movement, but through the expression on their faces and their connection to one another.
We talked to artistic director Alonzo King about his love of collaborations and why he thinks politicians need to dance more.