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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 Originally made for Sweden’s Cullberg Ballet, it sets out an expanse of constant change among 20 intermingling dancers, like a nighttime sky with stars that twinkle here and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- Murmuration by Edwaard Liang, with music by Ezio Bosso, company premiere for BalletMet in Columbus, OH and originally made for Houston Ballet in 2012.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.
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."
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.
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:
I always knew my ballet career would eventually end. It was implied from the very start that at some point I would be too old and decrepit to take morning ballet class, followed by six hours of intense rehearsals.
What I never imagined was that I would experience a time when I couldn't walk at all.
In rehearsal for Nutcracker in 2013, I slipped while pushing off for a fouetté sauté, instantly rupturing the ACL in my right knee. In that moment my dance life flashed before my eyes.
Stephen Petronio brings a bracing season to New York City's Joyce Theater, where he has performed almost every year for 24 years . His work is exciting to the subscription audience as well as to many dance artists. He delves into movement invention at the same time as creating complex postmodern forms. The new work, Hardness 10, is his third collaboration with composer Nico Muhly. The costumes are by Patricia Field ARTFASHION, hand-painted by Iris Bonner/These Pink Lips. Petronio's work still practically defines the word contemporary.
Stephen Petronio Company also continues with its Bloodlines series. That's where he pays homage to landmark works of the past that have influenced his own edgy aesthetics. This season he's chosen Merce Cunningham's playful trio Signals (1970), which will be performed with live music from Composers Inside Electronics.
Completing the program is an excerpt from Petronio's Underland (2003), with music by Nick Cave. Video footage courtesy of Stephen Petronio Company, filmed by Blake Martin.
Never did I think I'd see the day when I'd outgrow dance. Sure, I knew my life would have to evolve. In fact, my dance career had already taken me through seasons of being a performer, a choreographer, a business owner and even a dance professor. Evolution was a given. Evolving past dancing for a living, however, was not.
Transitioning from a dance career involved just as much of a process as building one did. But after I overcame the initial identity crisis, I realized that my dance career had helped me develop strengths that could be put to use in other careers. For instance, my work as a dance professor allowed me to discover my knack for connecting with students and helping them with their careers, skills that ultimately opened the door for a pivot into college career services.
Here's how five dance skills can land you a new job—and help you thrive in it:
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."
We all know that companies too often take dancers for granted. When I wrote last week about a few common ways in which dancers are mistreated—routine screaming, humiliation, being pressured to perform injured and be stick-thin—I knew I was only scratching the surface.
So I put out a call to readers asking for your perspective on the most pressing issues that need to be addressed first, and what positive changes we might be able to make to achieve those goals.
The bottom line: Readers agree it's time to hold directors accountable, particularly to make sure that dancers are being paid fairly. But the good news is that change is already happening. Here are some of the most intriguing ideas you shared via comments, email and social media:
With dancer and choreographer credits that cover everything from touring with Beyoncé to music videos and even feature films, Tricia Miranda knows more than a thing or two about what it takes to make it. And aspiring dancers are well aware. We caught up with the commercial dance queen last weekend at the Brooklyn Funk convention, where she taught a ballroom full of dancers classes in hip-hop and dancing for film and video.
How To Land An Agency
"At times with the agencies, they already have someone that looks like you or you're just not ready to work. Look has to do with a lot of it, work ethic and also just the type of person you are. Do you have personality? Do people want to work with you? Because you can be the greatest dancer, but if you're not someone that gives off this energy of wanting to get to know you, then it doesn't matter how dope you are because people want to work with who they want to be around. I learned that by later transitioning into a choreographer because now that I'm hiring people, I want to hire the people that I want to be around for 12 or 14 hours a day.
You also have to understand that class dancers are different from working commercial dancers. A lot of class dancers and what you see in these YouTube videos are people who stand out because they're doing what they want and remixing choreography. They're kind of stars in their own right, which is great for class, but when it comes to a job, you have to do the choreography how it's taught."
Houston's METdance and the Dallas-based Bruce Wood Dance have teamed up to commission a new work from Dallas native (and former Dallas Black Dance Theatre artistic director) Bridget L. Moore. The two contemporary companies will take the stage together in Dallas at Moody Performance Hall on March 16 and at Houston's Hobby Center for the Performing Arts on April 13–15. Visit brucewooddance.org and metdance.org for details on the respective engagements.