Wendy's Best and Worst of 2014
I guess my list is pretty long. Sorry, I couldn't help myself; there were so many performances and artists that ranked high in my personal accounting.
Best new choreography
• Faye Driscoll’s Thank You For Coming at Danspace: She broke not only the fourth wall but the floor too, making the audience part of the performance. Every bit of the choreography expressed both struggle and pleasure.
• In Victor Quijada’s Empirical Quotient, the six dancers of Montreal’s RUBBERBANDance Group crept and pounced with stealth. Somewhere in between hip hop, cirque, and ballet, these remarkable dancers reacted to the energy between them as though it were a tangible thing, at Schimmel Center for the Arts, Pace University.
• Of Days, choreographed by Andrew Simmons, part of the New Zealand Ballet’s program at the Joyce: a velvety, shadowy mysteriousness that kept my eyes glued.
• Mouth to Mouth, performed and created by Ate9 dANCE cOMPANY (forgive them their invented spelling), at Peridance Capezio Center. This new L.A.–based group, led by former Batsheva dancer Danielle Agami, embraces awkwardness, absurdity and a sophisticated kind of innocence.
• Justin Peck’s Everywhere We Go, at New York City Ballet: teeming with ideas about the relationship of group to individual or group to duet, while deploying a Trisha Brown–like playfulness with the margins of the space.
• John Jasperse’s quartet Within between created a bare space with a growing sense of possibility at New York Live Arts. One dancer started the piece by poking a long pole out toward the audience—poking at the fourth wall. With Jasperse’s typical droll austerity, the choreography gradually built up to a pulsating high.
• The Hole, Ohad Naharin’s sometimes harsh yet wondrous site-specific work, created a place where love and battle coexist, at Suzanne Dellal Center in Tel Aviv. Surprises came from outside the temporary platform, from above and below. When you leave you feel your whole being is vibrating.
• Alexei Ratmansky’s Pictures at an Exhibition splintered the moods of Mussorgsky’s famous music into a myriad of shapes and dynamics. Infused with the humanity he’s known for, Pictures also had a drop-to-the-floor releasing motif that pulled NYCB’s dancers closer to the earth than I’ve ever seen them.
• Mark Morris’ WORDS, commissioned by Fall for Dance, plumbed the usual A-B-A structure but with such a fertile imagination that it escaped the predictability of that form. Two people carried a banner that concealed some dancers while revealing others, a Vaudevillian device used ingeniously throughout. Supremely musical with violinist and pianist onstage playing Mendelssohn’s “Songs Without Words.” A total delight.
• I saw the Batsheva Dance Company perform Ohad Naharin’s Sadeh21 at UCLA’s Royce Hall and BAM. Only Naharin can immerse you in despair and light-heartedness at the same instant. This kind of paradox sparks insight into human behavior and makes you feel psychologically sated.
• Twenty-three bare-chested young men from Escuela Superior Musica y Danza de Monterrey in Mexico surged onto the Koch stage in Legion at the Youth America Grand Prix gala. Choreographer Jaime Sierra made some of them into a human mountain for others to scale and later fly off of. Thrilling.
Best Dance-Plus-Talking Premieres
• David Roussève/REALITY in Roussève’s Stardust at Jacob’s Pillow, a poignant story of deprivation and discrimination that catches at the heart.
• Ilvs Strauss in Manifesto at On the Boards in Seattle: masterfully honed androgynous presence, a sly script, and a bodacious California Red Sea Cucumber costume.
• Mark Dendy’s Dystopia Distractions! Part 1 (excerpt) at Joe’s Pub. Every shyster politician should get the treatment that Dendy gave Donald Rumsfield in this monologue with gestural mimicry that’s uncannily expressive of a dark underside.
• Alan Smithee Directed This Play by Paul Lazar and Annie-B Parson at BAM. Big Dance Theater’s unique brand of fractured fairy tales, enacted by dancer/actors who are arch yet simpatico. The separate components shouldn’t rationally coalesce into a cohesive experience but somehow they do.
• Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host, presented by Ira Glass, choreographed by Monica Bill Barnes with Anna Bass: A meditation on the nature of performing, spliced with witty storytelling and sprinkled with comic flair.
Best Revivals or Re-runs
• The central duet of Light Rain was given a tantalizing performance by Ballet West’s Beckanne Sisk and the Joffrey’s Fabrice Calmels at a YAGP gala. It took us back to the sex-drugs-and-percussion haze of the ’60s as envisioned by Gerald Arpino in 1981. The ballet was a hit for the Joffrey in the ’80s but fell out of favor, so this was a welcome, if controversial (some thought it vulgar or acrobatic) pas de deux.
• The Second Detail (1991) by William Forsythe, performed by Boston Ballet at the Koch Theater. The brazen display of technique, edgy attitude, riddle-like presentation (what was the word THE doing sitting downstage on blocks?) practically defines contemporary ballet.
• BLEED (2013) by Tere O’Connor. How does human behavior make a shape onstage? How does interaction become rhythm? O’Connor’s people explore states of being troubled, harassed, or defiant, all with an ironic, self-commenting theatricality.
• Cincinnati Ballet reprised Chasing Squirrel, a madcap romp made on them by Trey McIntyre in 2004. Women are in control, then coy, then back in control. The partnering is stupendous, the chase is hilarious, and the music by Kronos Quartet is smart and fun.
• The Jig Is Up (1984) by Eliot Feld, performed by Juilliard students with a full quotient of zaniness, buoyancy and daring.
• Massine’s Gaieté Parisienne (1938): Some didn’t like Christian Lacroix’s cartoonish costumes in the 1988 revival, which were retained here, and the ballet basically runs on style and froth. But it’s a piece of ballet history that honors ABT’s early years.
• A beautiful melding of body architecture and motion, the “Man Fan” solo of Moses Pendleton’s Botanica (2008) was performed by Jon Eden of MOMIX at the Fire Island Dance Festival. When he unfurled his huge cocoon of a fan, he seemed to brush the sky.
• Hofesh Schechter's Uprising (2006) was given a bold rendition by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at NY City Center. The all-male cast gave it the menacing watchfulness, propulsive runs and ambiguous camaraderie it deserved.
• Dia:Beacon hosted an afternoon retrospective of Steve Paxton, icon of postmodern dance: willful simplicity, curiosity, a quirkiness rooted in the explorations of the spine, and an ineffable sense of the riddle of life.
• Sara Mearns of NYCB: abandoned in Walpurgisnacht Ballet, commanding in Union Jack, earthy in Pictures at an Exhibition, celestial in Mozartiana, and superwoman in Wheeldon’s DGV: Danse à Grande Vitesse.
• PeiJu Chien-Pott in Depak Ine by Nacho Duato with Martha Graham Dance Company at City Center: Astounding command and presence, embodying that time-honored Graham intensity.
• Alvaro Dule of Wayne McGregor/Random Dance’s Atomos, at Peak Performances in Montclair: an over-the-top elasticity paired with appealing self-possession.
• Misty Copeland showed verve in everything: slinky in Derek Hough’s premiere Ameska (commissioned by YAGP), playful while precise in Balanchine’s Duo Concertant, and joyfully alluring as the Flower Girl in Gaité Parisienne (the last two with ABT).
• Shay Bares as Laurelai in Hackpolitik by Kate Ladenheim at Here, NYC: Transgender glamour with fabulous technique.
• Steven McRae of The Royal Ballet tapped like a mad hatter in his version of Czardas in Positano, Italy. A total entertainer.
• Misa Kuranaga in Symphony in Three Movements, with Boston Ballet at the Koch Theater. Pure, transcendant dancing the way Balanchine would have wanted it.
• Osnel Delgado, co-founder, choreographer and the force behind Cuban dance company Malpaso, at the Joyce: Wired and wild.
• Stuart Singer in John Jasperse’s Within between: Here I resort to quoting Siobhan Burke, who described him in The New York Times as “the engrossing Mr. Singer, who could be a gladiator or an angsty toddler.”
• Angelica Generosa of Pacific Northwest Ballet in Take Five…More or Less by Susan Stroman and Nacho Duato’s Rassemblement at Jacob’s Pillow: A magnetic performer with a juicy movement quality.
• Paul Hurley in Liz Lerman’s Healing Wars at Peak Performances in Montclair: A real-life amputee who radiated peacefulness whether speaking or moving.
• L. A. Dance Project’s Aaron Carr in works by Millepied, Justin Peck, and Forsythe at BAM: A charisma fueled by energy, commitment, and wit.
• Diana Vishneva in Hans Van Manen’s duet The Old Man and Me, and in Marco Goecke’s solo Tué, in her own festival CONTEXT, Moscow. In the former she reveled in a kind of private womanly grandeur; in the latter she projected an existential despair through hyper nervous hand motions. A strung out addict—or insect, or doomed diva. Magnificent!
• Omagbitse Omagbemi in Neil Greenberg’s This at New York Live Arts: Sensual, impulsive, radiant, with a focus that’s both interior and exterior.
• Heather Olson in BLEED by Tere O’Connor: She’s the Chosen One in this tragicomedy, the one to whom things happen and who instills awe and fear in others. Even at the height of theatrical hysteria, she retains the ironic edge that fits O’Connor’s work like a glove.
• Stella Abrera as Princess Clara in ABT’s Nutcracker by Ratmansky, the Lilac Fairy in Sleeping Beauty, the Fairy Godmother in Ashton’s Cinderella, and Mercedes in Don Q: All things light and joyous. Her upper body is surrounded by peaceful space.
• Alan Cumming in Cabaret: Larger than life theatricality, double-edged satire oozing from his lips and every other part of his body.
• Taylor Stanley of NYCB: Warmth, clarity, and verve in every role.
• ABT’s Craig Salstein: irrepressible humor as Gamache in Don Q, the Peruvian in Gaieté Parisienne and the Russian (or buffoon) dance in Nutcracker. A masterful sense of theater that makes visible even the smallest gestures.
• André Feijao, he of the beanpole body and urgent energy, still the most riveting member of Companhia Urbana de Dança, at the Joyce.
• Sascha Radetsky as Franz in Coppélia, which was simultaneously his ABT debut in the role and farewell to the company. A joyousness so mischievous that it verged on recklessness.
• Cynthia Loemij in Rosas danst Rosas by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker at Lincoln Center Festival. You felt her urgency grow with every repetition of every step.
• Tiler Peck and Joaquin De Lux in Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux: With sparkling technique, exciting virtuosity and daring musicality, they brought the house down. An exhilarating highlight of NYCB’s season.
• ABT’s Polina Semionova and David Hallberg: an exquisite and moving Giselle at the Met.
• Herman Cornejo and Maria Kochetkova in ABT’s Don Q: Classy fun.
• Olga Smirnova and Evan McKie in Onegin pas de deux at the YAGP gala: Gloriously tragic.
Most Moving New Musicals
• Beautiful, the Carole King Musical
• Side Show
Funniest New Broadway Musical
• Bullets Over Broadway
• Spectral Evidence, a hokey premiere by Preljocaj (a usually astute choreographer) for NYCB based on women as witches. Nobody liked seeing them burning in their coffins.
• Cacti by Alexander Ekman, performed by Boston Ballet at the Koch, was huge, sprawling, and overlong, with a sophomoric script—except for one fabulous little talking duet.
• The Mikhailovsky Ballet’s Le Halte de Cavalerie at Lincoln Center: a silly pointless Petipa ballet resurrected by Peter Gusev in 1975. The kind of ballet where a man peeks under a woman’s skirt and then looks at the audience with a smirk as though he’s done something clever.
• Josh Bergasse’s Stairway to Heaven, for Sara Mearns and a posse of backup guys: a compendium of every cliché in the book, at DRA’s Fire Island Festival.
For trends, endings and beginnings (including Wendy Whelan’s farewell), click here.
Booking a gig on a cruise ship can feel like you're diving into the unknown—dropping everything to live in the middle of the ocean without family, friends or cell service. But cruise jobs can also offer incredible rewards, like traveling the world for free and delving into a new style.
Is ship life the right fit for you? Here are some elements to consider.
We knew that New York downtown dance darling Okwui Okpokwasili was a big deal. Critics and audiences have been raving about her dance-theater works for years, and the new documentary about her, Bronx Gothic, has attracted the attention of the larger arts community.
But never in our wildest dreams did we imagine she'd show up in a Jay Z video, along with flex dancer Storyboard P. Though we're slightly less surprised to see Storyboard in Jay Z's "4:44" video than we were to see Okpokwasili, we're jazzed that two of our favorites are featured on such a huge platform. (We're also feeling #blessed that we didn't have to subscribe to Tidal to watch this.)
Throughout the years, choreographer Seán Curran has worked with a diverse array of talented collaborators—from Kyrgyz music ensemble Ustatshakirt Plus to the the Grammy Award–winning King's Singers. But perhaps none are as meaningful as his most recent group of co-choreographers: At-risk teens from the after school program and nonprofit The Wooden Floor.
Curran has been in residence with The Wooden Floor since June, where he's worked with students to build choreography based on their lives and communities:
Their creation will be shown July 20-22 at The Wooden Floor Studio Theatre in Santa Ana, California.
"Besides the stage, baking is my other happy place," says New York City Ballet corps member Jenelle Manzi.
Four years ago, she thought her baking days were over when she was diagnosed with gluten intolerance. Manzi had been dealing with pain, frequent illness and joint inflammation for nearly 10 years. Once she cut out gluten, Manzi gradually started to feel better, noticing a transformation in how her body felt and functioned. She found her joints were less inflamed, and she got sick less often.
New York City Ballet soloist Unity Phelan and American Ballet Theatre soloist Cassandra Trenary spend every day making their hard work look effortless and graceful both in the studio and onstage. That's exactly what makes them the perfect spokesmodels for the dance-inspired activewear line, Belle Force.
To celebrate our 90th anniversary, we excavated some of our favorite hidden gems from the DM Archives—images that capture a few of the moments in time we've documented over the decades.
This image was captured during a 1978 New York City Ballet tour that took the company to Copenhagen—home turf for Adam Luders (right), who trained at the Royal Danish Ballet School and briefly danced with the company before joining NYCB as a principal dancer in 1975. Next to Luders is (of course) George Balanchine, in conversation with ballerina Suzanne Farrell. And looking on with a smile? NYCB's current ballet master in chief Peter Martins.
On March 8, 2016, Rami Shafi found himself inspired to film an impromptu dance video of his best friend, Aaron Moses Robin, improvising on Gay St. in New York City's Greenwich Village. Thus was born Pedestrian Wanderlust, a collection of dance videos that has grown to include a monthly improv jam.
Shafi works with anyone who wants to take part in the project, filming videos in locations chosen by the dancers and later adding music. The videos are shot on Shafi's iPhone in one take and, other than the starting and ending points, are entirely improvised. The editing afterwards—including the music choice—is minimal. "I don't like to edit too much. It's just what it is," says Shafi. "I usually can do the editing on the train ride home."