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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 Originally made for Sweden’s Cullberg Ballet, it sets out an expanse of constant change among 20 intermingling dancers, like a nighttime sky with stars that twinkle here and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- Murmuration by Edwaard Liang, with music by Ezio Bosso, company premiere for BalletMet in Columbus, OH and originally made for Houston Ballet in 2012.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.
It can be hard to focus when Alice Sheppard dances.
Her recent sold-out run of DESCENT at New York Live Arts, for instance, offered a constellation of stimulation. Onstage was a large architectural ramp with an assortment of peaks and planes. There was an intricate lighting and projection design. There was a musical score that unfolded like an epic poem. There was a live score too: the sounds of Sheppard and fellow dancer Laurel Lawson's bodies interacting with the surfaces beneath them.
And there were wheelchairs. But if you think the wheelchairs are the center of this work, you're missing something vital about what Sheppard creates.
What is the right flooring system for us?
So many choices, companies, claims, endorsements, and recommendations to consider. The more you look, the more confusing it gets. Here is what you need to do. Here is what you need to know to get the flooring system suited to your needs.
"I'm sorry, but I just can't possibly give you the amount of money you're asking for."
My heart sinks at my director's final response to my salary proposal. She insists it's not me or my work, there is just no money in the budget. My disappointment grows when handed the calendar for Grand Rapids Ballet's next season with five fewer weeks of work.
"It just...always looks better in my head."
While that might not be something any of us would want to hear from a choreographer, it's a brilliant introduction to "Off Kilter" and the odd, insecure character at its center, Milton Frank. The ballet mockumentary (think "The Office" or "Parks and Recreation," but with pointe shoes) follows Frank (dancer-turned-filmmaker Alejandro Alvarez Cadilla) as he comes back to the studio to try his hand at choreographing for the first time since a plagiarism scandal derailed his fledgling career back in the '90s.
We've been pretty excited about the series for a while, and now the wait is finally over. The first episode of the show, "The Denial," went live earlier today, and it's every bit as awkward, hilarious and relatable as we hoped.
When most people think of dance students, they imagine lithe children and teenagers waltzing around classrooms with their legs lifted to their ears. It doesn't often cross our minds that dance training can involve an older woman trying to build strength in her body to ward off balance issues, or a middle-aged man who didn't have the confidence to take a dance class as a boy for fear of bullying.
Anybody can begin to learn dance at any age. But it takes a particular type of teacher to share our art form with dancers who have few prospects beyond fun and fitness a few nights a week.
Travis Wall draws inspiration from dancers Tate McCrae, Timmy Blankenship and more.
One often-overlooked relationship that exists in dance is the relationship between choreographer and muse. Recently two-time Emmy Award Winner Travis Wall opened up about his experience working with dancers he considers to be his muses.
"My muses in choreography have evolved over the years," says Wall. "When I'm creating on Shaping Sound, our company members, my friends, are my muses. But at this current stage of my career, I'm definitely inspired by new, fresh talent."
Wall adds, "I'm so inspired by this new generation of dancers. Their teachers have done such incredible jobs, and I've seen these kids grown up. For many of them, I've had a hand in their exposure to choreography."
New York City–based dancers know Gibney. It's a performance venue, a dance company, a rehearsal space, an internship possibility—a Rubik's Cube of resources bundled into two sites at 280 and 890 Broadway. And in March of this year, Gibney (having officially dropped "Dance" from its name) announced a major expansion of its space and programming; it now operates a total of 52,000 square feet, 23 studios and five performance spaces across the two locations.
Six of those studios and one performance space are brand-new at the 280 Broadway location, along with several programs. EMERGE will commission new works by emerging choreographic voices for the resident Gibney Dance Company each year; Making Space+ is an extension of Gibney's Making Space commissioning and presenting program, focused on early-career artists. For the next three years, the Joyce Theater Foundation's artist residency programs will be run out of one of the new Gibney studios, helping to fill the gap left by the closing of the Joyce's DANY Studios in 2016.
Dancers crossing over into the fitness realm may be increasingly popular, but it was never part of French-born Julie Granger's plan. Though Granger grew up a serious ballet student, taking yoga classes on the side eventually led to a whole new career. Creating her own rules along the way, Granger shares how combining the skills she learned in ballet with certifications in yoga, barre and personal training allowed her to become her own boss (and a rising fitness influencer).
José Greco popularized Spanish dance in 1950s and '60s America through his work onstage and on screen. Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater's American Spanish Dance & Music Festival is honoring the icon in recognition of what would have been his 100th birthday. As part of the tribute, Greco's three dancing children are reuniting to perform together for the first time since their father's death in 2000. Also on the program is the premiere of contemporary flamenco choreographer Carlos Rodriguez's Mar de Fuego (Sea of Fire). June 15–17, North Shore Center for the Performing Arts. ensembleespanol.org.
Dance Theatre of Harlem dancers Christopher McDaniel and Crystal Serrano were working on Nacho Duato's Coming Together in rehearsal when McDaniel's foot hit a slippery spot on the marley. As they attempted a swinging lift, both dancers went tumbling, injuring Serrano as they fell. She ended up being out for a week with a badly bruised knee.
"I immediately felt, This is my fault," says McDaniel. "I broke my friend."
What's on the minds of college students today?
I recently had the honor of adjudicating at the American College Dance Association's National College Dance Festival, along with choreographer Dana Tai Soon Burgess and former National Endowment for the Arts dance specialist Douglas C. Sonntag. We chose three winners—one for Outstanding Choreography and two for Outstanding Performance—from 30 pieces representing schools throughout the country. It was a great opportunity to see what college dance students are up to—from the issues they care about to the kinds movement they're interested in exploring.
Here were the biggest trends and takeaways:
It's summer festival season! If you're feeling overwhelmed by the dizzying array of offerings, never fear: We've combed through the usual suspects to highlight the shows we most want to catch.
Subscription box services have quickly gained a dedicated following among the fashion and fitness set. And while we'd never say no to a box with new jewelry or workout wear to try, we've been waiting for the subscription model to make its way to the dance world.
Enter barre + bag, a new service that sends a curated set of items to your door each season. Created by Faye Morrow Bell and her daughter Tyler, a student in the pre-professional ballet program at University of North Carolina School of the Arts, this just-launched service offers dance, lifestyle and wellness finds in four themed bags each year: Spring Performance, Summer Study, Back-to-Studio and Nutcracker. Since all the products are specifically made for dancers, everything barre + bag sends you is something you'll actually use, (Plus, it all comes in a bag instead of a box—because what dancer can ever have enough bags?).
barre + bag's Summer Collection