Best of 2012

December 24, 2012

This year, a single performance stood out as gut-wrenching and unforgettable: Nadia Beugré, from Cote d’Ivoire, delivered an almost unbearably compelling solo titled Quartiers Libres, wherein pleasure and pain, freedom and oppression, intermingled. It was part of the Voices of Strength tour from Africa that stopped at New York Live Arts. When Beugré gradually stuffed a plastic garbage bag into her mouth, I felt as though I were choking. The suspense she created—when will she be able to breathe?—shook me to my roots.

And now, other sightings of excellence

New Choreography

Vertical Road by Akram Khan at Peak Performances in Montclair, NJ: a gritty view of spirituality

Les Carillons by Christopher Wheeldon, for New York City Ballet: luscious use of the Bizet, terrific solos for the women

Cylindrical Shadows by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa for Pacific Northwest Ballet: Full of humanness yet haunted by shadows and memories 

The You Show by Crystal Pite at Baryshnikov Arts Center: Split-second timing between partners, beguiling alter-ego switches

• RoseAnne Spradlin’s beginning of something at New York Live Arts: brazen, my-body-in-your-face, bravery 

• Benjamin Millepied’s Two Hearts for NYCB: Unorthodox group motion, gorgeous duets for Tiler Peck and Tyler Angle, haunting music by Nico Muhly

Doug Varone’s Lamentation Variations for the Martha Graham company: The brooding of four men looks like an impressionist painting in motion, at Vail International Dance Festival

Five Movements Three Repeats at Fall for Dance at City Center (premiere was at Vail, but it pulled together only later) by Wheeldon for Fang-Yi Sheu and, from NYCB, Wendy Whelan, Craig Hall and Tyler Angle of NYCB: an intriguing hybrid of aesthetics within alert-making strucures

JOLT by Autumn Eckman and Nan Giordano for Giordano Dance Chicago: A caffeine rush a minute in this fast and funny piece, at Jazz Dance World Congress at Byham Theater, Pittsburgh

• Pavement, Kyle Abraham’s opus about inner city life, complete with images of police brutality, at Harlem Stage Gatehouse

The Lottery, by Val Caniparoli for Ballet West in Salt Lake City: depicting societal violence with a brilliant use of surprise

• Aleksei Busko’s Album, won the Grand Prix at the International Festival of Modern Choreography in Vitebsk, Belarus. The Kiev choreographer packed the vicissitudes of a marriage into a clever six-minute duet based on jogging.

Additional Fabulous Solos
(beside Nadia Beugré’s)

• Jodi Melnick in One of Sixty Five Thousand Gestures, made by her and Trisha Brown together: The wit is in the details of shape and timing, at NYLA and Vail International Dance Festival.

• Herman Cornejo of ABT in his own Tango Y Yo at Youth America Grand Prix gala at Koch Theatre: One of the great ballet dancers of our time inhabits this solo, choreographed by himself, showing it’s possible to blast out virtuosity and still be a sensitive presence.

Best Performances

• Moiseyev Dance Company at Fall for Dance: infectious exhilaration

• Kate Skarpetowska and Brian McGinnis in Lar Lubovitch’s Crisis Variations (2011) at Florence Gould Hall: imaginative, desperate, tangled partnering

• The ragamuffin girls in the musical Annie, aged 8 to 12: professionalism beyond their years. (And, btw, they are more adorable than the dog.)

• Jeanine Durning in Deborah Hay’s As Holy Sites Go/Duet at Danspace Project, part of Platform 2012: Judson Now: Concentrated loopiness

• Justin Souriau-Levine in Ratmansky’s Nutcracker for ABT at BAM: Ever bolder cheekiness in his third year as the Little Mouse

• Rachael McLaren in Evolution of a Secured Feminine, the solo by Camille A. Brown during the Ailey season: theatrical sass

• Peter Chu of Kidd Pivot in The You Show by Crystal Pite: astounding feints and falls, existentially fascinating

• Kaori Nakamura of PNB: strong, yet aching with caring, in Cylindrical Shadows by Lopez Ochoa

• Fang-Yi Sheu: Charismatic leader of the women warriors in Martha Graham’s Chronicle at City Center

• Blakeley White-McGuire, cast later in the year in Chronicle at the Joyce: a sturdy exemplar of Graham’s forcefulness

• Yekaterina Osmolkina of the Mariinsky Ballet: serene sensuality and airy breath in Emeralds at the Mariinsky Theater, St. Petersburg

• Ethan Stiefel as the Slave in Corsaire: For his amazing turns and jumps, even with the headdress falling over his eyes, in his penultimate performance with ABT

• Misty Copeland as the Firebird in Ratmansky’s new production at ABT: Strong, striking, and sensual 

• David Hallberg as Cranko’s Onegin with ABT: perfectly sinister

• Two terrific Tatianas in ABT’s Onegin: Hee Seo and Irina Dvorovenko: shyness turning to surrender, turning to inner conflict

• Joseph Gorak as Lensky in Onegin with ABT: Applying perfect pirouettes to a noble soul

• Jun Kuribayashi of Pilobolus: a visible inner life even during the most extroverted actions at the Joyce.

• Jonathan Royse Windham: losing himself in a supremely eccentric, poignantly unstable sequence in Andrea Miller’s Sit, Kneel, Stand at Gallim’s Joyce season

• Tiler Peck of NYCB in Less Carillons, Two Hearts, and Nutcracker as Sugar Plum: glorious amplitude

• Hélène Bouchet of Hamburg Ballet: a tender, sweeping drama to John Neumeier’s Liliom, at Benois de la Danse Gala, Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow

• Yoshihisa Arai of Tulsa Ballet: killer technique and mischief to match, as Mercutio in Edwaard Liang’s new Romeo and Juliet, in Tulsa, OK

• Travis Walker in Trey McIntyre Project work at BAM: A hint of soul while being sexy

• Isabelle Ciaravola of Paris Opera Ballet: Her slow-motion Giselle moved me to tears, at Lincoln Center Festival

• Marie-Agnès Gillot of Paris Opera Ballet: Cold and still as ice, then warm and flowing as Eurydice in Pina Bausch’s Orpheus et Eurydice at Lincoln Center Festival

• Céline Cassone: Technique worthy of Sylvie Guillem in Cayetano Soto’s hard-edged Zero In On, and a vivid, emotional protagonist in Barak Marshall’s Harry, with Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal at the Joyce


Fort Blossom (2000) by John Jasperse, exploring male nudity with a blunt sort of intimacy and playfulness, New York Live Arts

• Trisha Brown’s Astral Converted at the Park Avenue Armory: vast space inhabited by silvery, slivery creatures, making it feel like being on the moon

• L. A. Dance Project bringing Winterbranch (1964), lighting (originally by Robert Rauschenberg) illuminated the corners of the space more than the dancers, creating a mystery of shards in space and time, at Peak Performances in Montclair, NJ

Best Musical Revival

Porgy and Bess, heart-wrenching, with folk-like, non-showy choreography, by Ron Brown (not to mention that Audra MacDonald is a life force onstage.)

Student performances

• Shu Kinouchi in Balanchine’s Tarantella, a JKO student, in ABT Studio Company performance at Pace University: Astounding technique and bounding joy

• Robert Maynard, boldy androgynous in his own Fase, Six Abbreviated Movements to the Music of Nicki Minaj, part of Lang Dance, Eugene Lang College of The New School, at Ailey Citigroup Theater

Most Joyous Reunion performance

• Life’s Force,
bringing together alumnae from 40 years of Dianne McIntyre/Sounds in Motion, during American Dance Guild festival at Ailey Citigroup

Most Investigative Curation

• Judy Hussie-Taylor for taking on two epic cultural phenomena in the  2012 Platforms at the Danspace Project. First, “Parallels,” going back to 30 years ago when Ishmael Houston-Jones brought black dancers into downtown, and following up with the expansion into many directions in the present. And “Judson Now,” investigating Judson Dance Theater of 50 years ago and its influence on the present (disclosure I was an advisor in that series).

Set Design

• Simon Pastukh for his twisty tree bundles topped with burning embers for Ratmansky’s Firebird

• Anthony McCall for Eclipse, choreographed by Jonah Bokaer at BAM: a mathematically intriguing, slanted grid of light bulbs


• The David Gordon/Valda Setterfield relationship in In the beginning at Joyce Soho and The Matter/2012 at Danspace reminded me of their 50 or so years of achievement: He gives her material, and she gives his work an inquisitive, Shakespearean dignity.

• Desmond Richardson in Moonlight Solo from Frames by Dwight Rhoden at Stars of the 21st Century, at Koch Theater. A sterling example of expressiveness through technique

• Renee Robinson in Revelations during her final week after 30 years with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater: Revelations resides in her body and comes bursting out as joy. We’ll miss her. 

Most Realistic New TV Dance Show

Breaking Pointe,
on the CW: Real dancers of Ballet West talk about life off and onstage in their striving , thriving company

Trend Noted

More transgender performers than before, indicating greater comfort, on both sides of the footlights, with the growing number of young people opting to change their gender