Wendy's Best of 2013

December 28, 2013

Warning: The following claims are entirely subjective and are limited by what I’ve seen or not seen.



(and worst)
(world premieres or New York premieres.)

Borderlands, choreographed by Wayne McGregor for San Francisco Ballet at War Memorial Opera House. With snaking spines, vibrating arms, and torsos diving through a partner’s negative space, this kinetically exciting premiere was danced magnificently by SFB. Lucy Carter’s saturated lighting immersed the dancers in a unique environment.

• Arthur Pita’s Metamorphosis (a dance theater adaptation after Franz Kafka). The craft of storytelling allowed pathos to emerge from the bizarre. Edward Watson was extraordinary as the hapless man turned cockroach. Corey Annand was also quite amazing as the precocious little sister who feeds the insect. Co-produced by The Royal Ballet and The Joyce Theater.

Night Stand, created and performed by Lisa Nelson and Steve Paxton, at Dia:Chelsea. In this spare riddle of a duet, they improvised with isolated objects—a branch, a kimono, a plastic bag—as much as with each other.

•  Rosie Herrera’s Various Stages of Drowning: A Cabaret, at The Joyce as part of Focus Dance. Wacky yet deep dance theater piece, stitched together with imagination and slightly dark humor.

• Tap dancer Michelle Dorrance’s ingenious SOUNDspace at Danspace. A single, clear concept, infused with a sense of play, made St. Mark’s Church vibrate with sound and rhythm.

• John Scott’s supremely humane The White Piece, inspired by his work with torture survivors, at La Mama in association with Irish Arts Center. An international ensemble of strong individuals started out boisterous and ended with unexpectedly poetic, intimate scenes.

• Compagnie Sébastien Ramirez’s AP15, at the Breakin’ Convention (which originated at Sadler’s Wells in London) at the Apollo Theater. This slippery 15-minute hip-hop duet with Honji Wang (the long version is called Amor & Psyche) passed through astounding sleights of hand—or actually sleights of body.

Hands on a Hard Body. While big, lavish Broadway numbers in other musicals had great pizzazz, I was more moved by Sergio Trujillo’s spare but inventive choreography for 10 people desperate to win a pick-up truck.

• Olivier Wevers’ Monster for his company Whim W’Him. In this series of three very different duets, the dancers slide into each other’s space, meeting with either intimacy or contained violence. A highlight of the new Ballet v6.0 series at the Joyce.

• Benjamin Millepied’s Neverwhere for New York City Ballet. Shades of Quasi Una Fantasia (my favorite Millepied piece for its strange, surging masses) with fewer people. The shiny black scaly costumes by Iris Van Herpen—part reptile, part armor—and music by Nico Muhly all went together to create something that’s both a throwback and futuristic.

• Jonah Bokaer’s Ulysses Syndrome, at Florence Gould Hall. Bleak, with hope around the edges, this duet between Jonah and his father, writer Tsvi Bokaer, had an air of old-world mystery.

• Wendy Whelan’s Restless Creature, wherein an iconic ballerina commissioned duets by and with four young choreographers: Alejandro Cerrudo, Kyle Abraham, Joshua Beamish, and Brian Brooks. This fascinating program premiered at Jacob’s Pillow, and will tour this coming spring.

• Ko Murabushi’s alarming Ritournelle at Red Brick Studio, Yokohama, Japan. Hitting the floor with a thud, dragging lilies in his teeth, this butoh master embodied both despair and hope.

• Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s snazzy, jazzy Sombrerísimo for Ballet Hispanico, commissioned by Fall for Dance at New York City Center. When these six guys toss their hats while salsa-ing, you want to follow them to the beach.

• Christopher Wheeldon’s magical Cinderella, made with a team that includes designers Julian Crouch and Basil Twist and librettist Craig Lucas. Enchanting transformations, smart choreography, and luscious dancing. Co-produced by San Francisco Ballet and Dutch National Ballet, seen at Lincoln Center.

• Akram Khan’s solo DESH, in which he tells his culturally fractured story with body, voice and bald crown of head. Gorgeous set design by Tim Yip, at the White Light Festival, Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater.

Ich Kürbisgeist by Annie-B Parson and Paul Lazar, a triuimph of sly disorientation. The audience learned to enjoy a half-gibberish script by Sibyl Kempson and absurdist physical humor by the players. Part of the Replay Series at New York Live Arts.

Worst premiere: Preljocaj’s Spectral Evidence for NYCB. Heavy-handed, cryptic in its religious themes, it was loosely (very loosely) based on the Salem witch trials.

BEST (and worst) REVIVALS

Calcium Light Night (1977) by Peter Martins. Bracing and jagged rhythms, terrifically danced by Robert Fairchild and Sterling Hyltin of NYCB.

• Mark Morris’ sensuous, eastern-flavored Gong (2001), performed beautifully by ABT—especially in the silent interludes. It didn’t hurt that the first silent couple was Gillian Murphy and Sascha Radetsky, and the second was Marcelo Gomes and Misty Copeland. Heaven. With gamelan-like music by Colin McPhee and opaque tutus of saturated color by Isaac Mizrahi.

Play (2004) by Stanton Welch, music by Moby, at the Joyce, reining in the rebelliousness of adolescents—chaotic and lusty. Part of Houston Ballet’s season at the Joyce.

Most disappointing revival: Martha Graham’s Rite of Spring (1984) at Fall for Dance. Although Xiaochuan Xie was ravishing as the Chosen One, the choreography trotted out every Graham cliché (rope, rape) instead of making a statement with Stravinsky’s monumental music. (She was 90 when it was made.)


• San Francisco Ballet’s Maria Kochetkova: a perfect ballerina in Serge Lifar’s Suite en Blanc, an absolute animal in McGregor’s Borderlands, a heart-rending motherless child in Wheeldon’s Cinderella, and a joyous Aurora as a guest artist in ABT’s Sleeping Beauty.

• Heather Ogden of National Ballet of Canada in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Christopher Wheeldon, at the Kennedy Center. Her Alice was full of wonder and sweetness, keeping you interested in the story.

• Best rescuers of an overlong piece: Maria Kowroski, Ashley Bouder, and Andrew Veyette of NYCB for their gonzo energy in Bigonzetti’s Vespro.

• Best dancer in a bit role in a musical: Abdur-Rahim Jackson, raw and ready, in Soul Doctor, at Circle in the Square.

• Exhilarating shape shifting: Ailey’s Jamar Roberts in Ron Brown’s Four Corners at the Koch Theater and in Aszure Barton’s LIFT at City Center.

• Astonishing floating and gliding moves: Memphis jooker Charles “Lil Buck” Riley, at “Dance Against Cancer” and Le Poisson Rouge.

• Breath-takingly delicate debut from Italy: Rome Opera Ballet’s Erika Gaudenz, partnering Roberto Bolle in Roland Petit’s L’Arlésienne, in Roberto Bolle and Friends Gala, City Center.

• Spectacular ballet partnership: Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev. She is fast, facile, and perfect; he has the force of a cannonball and is humanly imperfect (I wish he would get some good coaching), with ABT at the Metropolitan Opera House.

• Awesomely grounded: Da’Von Doane of Dance Theatre of Harlem was magnetic in both Robert Garland’s Gloria and Donald Byrd’s sensuously edgy Contested Space.

• In a cast of megastar ABT principals, Craig Salstein streaked like lightning through “Symphony #9,” the first part of Ratmansky’s Shostakovich Trilogy at the Met.

• Best protagonist in a 1970s ballet: Hamburg Ballet’s Hélène Bouchet, a true ballerina—even wearing a unitard—as Hippolyta in John Neumeier’s Midsummer Night’s Dream (1977), as part of the 40th-anniversary celebration of Neumeier’s reign, Hamburg.

• Most erotic new ballet partnership: Alessandra Ferri and Herman Cornejo in Martha Clarke’s Chéri, at Signature Theatre. They made us feel we were voyeurs, witnessing their private, rapturous liaison.

• Least heralded supremely classical dancer: Houston Ballet’s Sara Webb in Ben Stevenson’s Twilight at The Joyce, and in an excerpt of Stanton Welch’s Marie at Houston Ballet’s Jubilee of Dance, Wortham Theater, Houston.

• Most charismatic new ballet guys: NYCB’s Zachary Catazaro in Balanchine’s Western Symphony, and Houston Ballet’s Joseph Walsh in Stanton Welch’s Play and Marie.

• Most openly emotional ballet dancer: Melody Mennite in Olivier Wevers’ Monster with Whim W’Him, and in Welch’s Play at the Joyce; also in Welch’s Maninyas in Houston Ballet’s Jubilee of Dance.

• Best Ophelia though we didn’t know she was Ophelia: Frances Chiaverini was the wandering innocent in William Forsythe’s Sider at BAM, bringing a beguiling liquid quality to this confounding but bracing work.

• Best opening solo: Ailey’s Samuel Lee Roberts, sly and risky as the lone improvisor who introduces Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16, City Center. In surprising himself and us, he fearlessly courted physical danger.

• Best closing solo: Nicholas Sciscione is Petronio’s Like Lazarus Did—as awkward and beautiful as a newborn—at the Joyce.

• Best dancer stepping into an actress role: Irina Dvorovenko, recently retired from ABT, flaunting her gorgeousness as the diva of On Your Toes. Of course her dancing was great, but her deep-throated, Russian-accented voice was wickedly good too, at the Encores! series at City Center.

• Most naturally alluring new Ailey star: Rachael McLaren in Kyle Abrahams’ Another Night, Aszure Barton’s LIFT, and Wayne McGregor’s Chroma.

• Funniest ballerina: Barbara Bears in the “Crazy” section of Stanton Welch’s Cline Time (2004), Houston Ballet’s Jubilee of Dance, Wortham Theater, Houston.

• Funniest modern dancer: Blakeley White-McGuire in Richard Move’s The Show (Achilles Heels), revived for the Martha Graham Dance Company.


Superlative dancers, heretofore unmentioned, who continue to top their own artistic achievements:

• Michael Trusnovec of Paul Taylor

• Yuan Yuan Tan and Sarah Van Patten of SFB

• Stella Abrera and Sarah Lane of ABT

• Matthew Rushing, Alicia Graf Mack, and Linda Celeste Sims of Ailey 

• Sara Mearns, Tiler Peck, and Georgina Pazcoguin of NYCB

• Jon Bond of Cedar Lake

• Carla Körbes of Pacific Northwest Ballet

• Julie Diana of Pennsylvania Ballet


• Best art exhibit: “Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, 1909–1929: When Art Danced with Music,” at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. This dazzling display of costumes, videos, and sets invited us into the glorious period when outrageously bold ballets burst forth from the collaborative imagination.

• Best company new to NYC: 605 Collective from Vancouver. A ragtag group whose Selected Play at Fall for Dance looked like a random free-for-all, but the hairs-breadth timing revealed how harrowing the choreography really was.

• Best Books

Dancing on Water: A Life in Ballet, from the Kirov to the ABT.
By Elena Tchernichova with Joel Lobenthal (Northeastern). A forthright, insightful  account of Tchernichova’s past life in Russia—she knew every famous Russian dancer you can think of— as well as her later years as a coach in the U.S., working closely with Baryshnikov at ABT.


Balanchine and the Lost Muse: Revolution & the Making of a Choreographer,
by Elizabeth Kendall (Oxford). A fascinating search that follows Balanchine from a reluctant ballet student to a prolific teenage choreographer during the violent confusion of the Russian Revolution. His partner and artistic ally, the “lost muse” Lidia Ivanova, mysteriously drowned just before he traveled west. Kendall applies her imagination to these tragic events, lifting this work to a spiritual level.

(There’s a third book that people seem to be enjoying, but to avoid appearing brazenly self promotional, I’ll just say, click here to find out about it.)

• Broadway’s most noticeable trend: Kids rule! Super talented little kids are carrying shows like Matilda and Annie. They are triple threats in the making—or rather, they are already triple threats. Scary.

• Best of the current wave of dancing-in-museum events: Eiko and Koma’s Caravan Project at the Museum of Modern Art. You could walk around the installation, watching these two timeless performers evolve and change in their self-made environment, and then move on to other artworks. More than any of the set choreography commissioned by MoMA, this was truly a live work of art to savor on one’s own time.

• Most valuable international blog: Ismene Brown, the British arts writer who has been translating and summarizing from Russian news sources about the ongoing saga of the acid attack on Bolshoi artistic director Sergei Filin and its labyrinthine aftermath, posts here.

• The most daring artistic director: Robert Battle, in his third year at the helm of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, took on Wayne McGregor’s wildly articulate contemporary classic, Chroma (made for The Royal Ballet in 2006)—the first NYC company to do so. He has worked up to this moment by expanding the rep with pieces by Taylor, Kylián, Fagan, and Naharin, and this season the supremely quirky Aszure Barton. His message to the world is that Ailey dancers can do anything!