Wendy's Best of 2017
Here is my list of favorites from this year, some of them with video clips embedded. I've also added "lingering thoughts" about certain situations in the dance world. As usual, my choices are limited by what I have actually seen. Most of the following are world premieres.
• Andrea Miller's Stone Skipping in the Egyptian room at the Temple of Dendur at the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Ancient and ultra-modern at once, gaga-initiated grapplings, telling many stories of people in struggle and solidarity. The group sequence (with her company Gallim plus dancers from Juilliard) from lying on the floor with pelvis bobbing to standing, to swaying, to skipping wildly about was transcendent.
• Hofesh Shechter's Grand Finale at BAM's Next Wave Festival. Apocalyptic in the most beautiful way. The 10 dancers attack, drag, rescue, wrestle, each other, march crazily to the beat of Shechter's own percussive music. Flashes of humor peeking through overwhelming bleakness. The women go totally limp for a disturbing amount of time. Gripping because of engaged choreography and the full-throttle dancing. The musicians are nomads, appearing and disappearing in Tom Visser's mysterious lighting.
• The Times Are Racing by Justin Peck for New York City Ballet, music by Dan Deacon. A sneaky blend of jazz, tap and ballet in sneakers, with a tap dance just for Justin and Robert Fairchild. But the best part is a snazzy yet vulnerable duet for Tiler Peck and Amar Ramasar: quick inward movements, sharp turns of the head, playful swatting of limbs but something more serious too. The way Tiler Peck moves slow after stillness is captivating. Click the picture below for a link to the video:
• Kyle Abraham's Dearest Home at The Kitchen produced by Lumberyard: The six dancers were so exposed, so willing to strip down to skin and heart. Searching each other for hard-earned affection or shaking with solitary sobbing.
• Composer's Holiday by 18-year-old Gianna Reisen for New York City Ballet. Excitable jittery energy, witty tableaux, a humor stemming from tricky momentum. A woman leaps and just before she lands a man somersaults underneath her. Quick changes of direction mid-lift. Excellent use of Lukas Foss music.
• Bill T. Jones's A Letter to My Nephew at BAM's Next Wave Festival. The street brawl was unforgettable, as were the slow love duet for two men and the sparring physical duet for two women. Reminds me of Bill T. and Arnie Zane's early rough-and-crazy Contact Improvisation.
• Let It Linger by Vicky Shick at The Kitchen, presented by Lumberyard. A poetic spareness of space, time, movement. A fluidity of relationships: mother-child, sisters, lovers. A minimalist sensibility edged with both humor and momentary violence. Pauses just long enough to imagine a story. The four dancers are each differently feminine.
Vicky Shick's Let It Linger, PC David Gonsier
• Kota Yamazaki/Fluid hug-hug's Darkness Odyssey Part 2: I or Hallucination, at Baryshnikov Arts Center. This put a spell on the audience. Four dancers started with near nothing, and gradually built to where a comic cosmic craziness seeped from them. Each of the four are gloriously eccentric while Yamazaki himself barely moved, a dark huddle on the ground off to the side.
• Michelle Dorrance's Until the Real Thing Comes Along (a letter to ourselves) at the Joyce. Four women entertain the audience to the Nth degree, then gradually reveal the complex characters behind the shiny facade. A brilliant idea, tapped out with gonzo technical chops and energy, each woman her own person, their camaraderie touching. A great pairing with (the third rendition of) Myelination, a bold rhythmic statement and exciting cultural mix.
• Twelve of 'em, David Hallberg, in this delightful Fall for Dance commission that Mark Morris made for him to piano music by Benjamin Britten. Classical lines are meshed with odd, funny scramblings. Hallberg slides and melts beneath the piano bench. During the pauses, he fixes his hair or walks casually—heel first like a normal person, not rarefied ballet. Each of the 12 sections is developed in a legible theme-and-variations format but is full of subtle surprises. In one variation, he shakes out his body edging toward the pianist, Colin Fowler, trapping him on the last note. The last move, with head dipping down modestly and palms facing outward, repeats the opening movement: I am here for you.
David Hallberg in Twelve of 'em, PC Stephanie Berger
• Koma, The Ghost Festival at Danspace. He alternated between quiet, stealthy walking meditations and sudden moves. He started indoors and took us outside, where his recycled Caravan was adorned with life-sized drawings, possibly the ghosts of the title. He climbed on top and waved a red flag like a crazy Cassandra begging for peace—or truth.
• Simone Forti's News Animation. I saw versions of this at UC Santa Barbara, the Danny Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College, and Sundays on Broadway. (Disclosure: All were related to Radical Bodies, an exhibit I co-curated.) Each time, I was drawn in by her oracle-like pronouncements while showing us her body-to-earth, octogenarian wisdom. Oblique connections between body and mind. She spoke of Mussolini's thrust-forward chin, and a cave where fish lured each other. (Her leather jacket served convincingly as a cave.)
• Memoirs of a …Unicorn by Marjani Forté, presented by New York Live Arts at Collapsible Hole, the cavernous, flood-damaged basement of Westbeth. Adjoining alcoves were filled with art (design team: Mimi Lien, Peiji Wong & Richard Forté). Forté knocked around, bumping down from a wooden pyramid tower, with a telephone pole–sized wire mesh unicorn attached to her forehead. Once she unstrapped it, she danced, interacted with the audience, got into screaming fits, and writhed as in a nightmare. Once, after sobbing uncontrollably, she was comforted by a creeping shadow. Changing from tragic to sassy on a dime.
Marjani Forti, PC Maria Baranova
• Kenneth King in his new Labyrinth with Voices. At University Settlement, presented by The Construction Company. A major downtown figure in the 70s and 80s, King moves with a sharp impulsiveness, exaggerating hands and voice. Like a ventriloquist, he is somehow remote from his various (ridiculous) characters. Postmodern meets Vaudeville. The inimitable Kenneth King, dubbed "the dancing philosopher" by Deborah Jowitt, is back.
Kenneth King, PC Grant King
• Tiler Peck's debut in Swan Lake at New York City Ballet. A monumental talent in a monumental role. She has a delicate wildness as Odette, an assured rock-solid sharpness as Odile. Her portrayal had a mercurial grandeur comparable to that of the great Russian ballerinas.
Tiler Peck and Chase Finlay, PC Paul Kolnik, courtesy NYCB
• Tony Yazbeck in Prince of Broadway. Susan Stroman gave him a tap solo where he rose to the heights of joy and plunged to the depths of despair. I was on the edge of my seat. (Click the photo below for video of the finale.)
• In a stellar cast of Serenade After Plato's Symposium by Ratmansky for ABT, Calvin Royal III made me love slow movement again. The entire male cast was outstanding, with Herman Cornejo, James Whiteside, Daniil Simkin.
Calvin Royal III in Serenade after Plato's Symposium, PC Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy ABT
• Sterling Hyltin in Neverwhere (2013). She was in the original cast of this ballet by Benjamin Millepied, music by Nico Muhly and costumes by Iris van Herpen. Hyltin inhabits the crinkly black costume and slick toe-shoe boots like an elegant, slinky sci-fi character.
Neverwhere, PC Paul Kolnik, courtesy NYCB
• The women of Ballet West at The Joyce: Emily Adams' delicate fluidity in Dances for Lou by Val Caniparoli; Arolyn Williams' ghostly lushness in Ruth: Ricordi Per Due by Arpino; Beckanne Sisk's sparkling technique in Balanchine's Chaconne.
Arolyn Williams and Chase O'Connell in Nicolo Fonte's Fox on the Doorstep, PC Beau Pearson
• In Dorrance Dance's Myelination, seen at Fall for Dance, the rangy Warren Craft moves his body like no one else. He staggers unpredictably through wildly rhythmic moves. His hunched upper body gives him a friendly Frankenstein look, but his gangliness makes him endearing.
• Also in Myelination was Ephrat Asherie, whose b-girling refreshes Dorrance's excellent tap choreography, especially when she joins in a kind of friendly battle with Dorrance, thereby igniting a delicious blend of hip hop and tap.
• PeiJu Chien-Pott of the Martha Graham Dance Company in Ekstasis (1933) by Martha Graham, "reimagined" by Virginie Mecene, at the Joyce. High drama, sinuous movement quality, her extreme angles defining modernism.
• John Selya, in Twyla Tharp's Dylan Love Songs at the Joyce. His wearily and warily poetic presence brought out the tenuous connection between the hard-driving Tharp body and the melancholy Dylan voice.
John Selya (left) in Dylan Love Songs. Photo via twylatharp.org
• Stella Abrera and Sarah Lane: These two new principals of ABT have been dancing exquisitely for years. Finally they are having their moment in the sun, much of it furnished by resident choreographer Alexei Ratmansky. In Souvenir d'un lieu cher, originally made for Dutch National Ballet in 2012, the two couples engage in lovely, inventive partnering. Both Abrera and Lane are absolutely lustrous while dancing to selections of Tchaikovsky; Abrera has moments of sadness. These two dancers were also the highpoints of a Ratmansky premiere I did not otherwise enjoy: Whipped Cream. Lane played Princess Praline with astoundingly fast footwork, and Abrera played the lovely, languid Princess Tea Flower.
Alban Lendorf, Sarah Lane, Marcelo Gomes and Stella Abrera in Souvenir d'un lieu cher, PC Gene Schiavone
• Marcelo Gomes as A Struggling Composer in The Red Shoes by Matthew Bourne. He had an outsized drama that was just right for this campy remake of the iconic 1948 movie, at New York City Center.
Marcelo Gomes in The Red Shoes, PC Lawrence Ho
• Carlo Antonio Villanueva, in BTJAZ's A Letter to My Nephew: Small and springy, ready for anything; juicy voguing and runway moves. A tour de force in every section of this dance.
• Mina Nishimura, in Vicky Shick's Let It Linger, her own work-in-progress at Sundays on Broadway, and in Kota Yamazaki's premiere. Her presence is fragile yet sturdy, feminine yet boyish, interior yet visible. There is something incandescent about her.
• Café Müller and The Rite of Spring, both by Pina Bausch with sets and costumes by Rolf Borzik, performed by Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch at BAM's Next Wave Festival. Welcome back to the program that jolted Americans awake to the larger-than-life glories of Pina Bausch's work. Both are about women's lives: the first bleak but riveting, the second a powerful rendition of Stravinsky's music.
• The Golden Section (1983 as part of The Catherine Wheel) by Twyla Tharp has not been performed by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater since 2006. A dense and fun and funny concoction with split-second timing; nothing breaks these dancers' stride.
• Four Screaming Women (1982) by Jane Comfort, reprised at Joe's Pub, part of Dance/Now. Obsessive precision of gesture, speed and spoken text, making for a wonderful, witty brand of virtuosity. It helps that one of the four "screaming" women is a man.
• Best museum performance: Work/Travail/Arbeid, an adaptation of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker's whirlwind Vortex Temprum, which was on my Best of 2016 list. This transformed the Museum of Modern Art with live music by the late Gérard Grisey that resounded throughout the halls. The piano ended up being wheeled around the gallery. It was a torrent of a piece, the movement and music whipping through the galleries at MoMA. We spectators felt like part of the action when dancers threaded through us.
• The most exquisite farewell: Diana Vishneva in her last ABT performance, as Tatiana in Cranko's Onegin at the Metropolitan Opera House. The passion of her dancing and acting hold you in its grip. She was partnered by the equally passionate Marcelo Gomes. A couple made in heaven.
• Broadway Musicals: I tend to enjoy the quieter productions that really make me feel something, rather that the big spectacles with lots of dance numbers. The new musicals this year that touched me deeply were Dear Evan Hansen, Indecent and The Band's Visit. I also enjoyed Bandstand and A Bronx Tale.
The cast of Indecent, PC Carol Rosegg
• The downtown presenting series: Sundays on Broadway, in Cathy Weis's loft in SoHo, is now in its fourth year. Time for any-age downtown types to show works in progress. This fall the series was guest-curated by choreographers Vicky Shick and Jonathan Kinzel. Great originality and craft were evident in works-in-progress by John Jasperse, Juliette Mapp, Lisa Nelson, Ishmael Houston-Jones, Jennifer Munson, Mina Nishimura, Neil Greenberg and others. Cathy Weis, a host with an irresistibly wry charm, occasionally shows her own video/dance gems. (Disclosure: I've participated in some of the past programs.)
• A woman leader for NYCB? The sexual misconduct maelstrom swept away Peter Martins, at least temporarily. A down-to-earth interim team of three young ballet masters and the resident choreographer has taken on responsibilities of artistic management. And we can't help but dream of the possibility of a woman taking over this storied company. Lord knows there are enough brilliant former NYCB female dancers who could handle it.
• A Plea for Editing: Choreographers are forgetting that when they ramble, they lose our attention. I saw several works by otherwise wonderful choreographers that ran way over their welcome. They started strong, with all kinds of reason to love the movement, then lost steam. My advice: Be less in love with every step you make. If you repeat phrases, have a good reason. Be aware of what other pieces/ballets are on the same program.
• Good call: Katlyn Addison sported an Afro in Ballet West's program of two contemporary ballets at The Joyce. Refreshing, considering how locked down the women's hair must be on most ballet stages.
• Same-sex duets just got more romantic: Most same-sex duets I've seen in the ballet world are kind of incidental. But Lauren Lovette, in her Not Our Fate, gave Taylor Stanley and Preston Chamblee a real-live falling-in-love duet that energized everything about the ballet relationships.
Taylor Stanley and Preston Chamblee in Not Our Fate, PC Paul Kolnik, courtesy NYCB
• Harbinger: NYCB's All-Robbins evening of three epic ballets, each in a completely different mood: Glass Pieces (1983), Moves (1984) and The Concert (1956). I never tire of seeing these works. Robbins starts with "ordinary" people doing ordinary things like walking and then builds to delicious heights of the imagination. A harbinger of the multi-faceted Robbins Centennial to come in 2018.
• Kudos to Julie Kent for speaking up in support of Marcelo Gomes. These days, as soon as a man is accused—even in the most vague, unsubstantiated way, of sexual misconduct—he is treated like a pariah. It's saddening to me that, because of an unproven claim from eight years ago that has nothing to do with ABT, Gomes has had to resign from the company he has given his life and artistry to for 20 years. Julie Kent, in her statement to The Washington Post, confirms my belief that, in addition to being a great dance artist, Gomes is a fine human being. Her deep love for him, which we saw when she presented the 2015 Dance Magazine Award to him, is obvious. Many of us feel the same.
For decades the name Alicia Alonso has been virtually synonymous with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the company she co-founded in Havana in 1948. Alonso died on October 17, just shy of what would have been her 99th birthday. In recent years, she had stepped back from day-to-day decision-making in the company. As if preparing for the future, in January, the company's leading ballerina, 42-year-old Viengsay Valdés, was named deputy director, a job that seems to encompass most of the responsibilities of a traditional director. Now, presumably, she will step into her new role as director of the company. Her debut as curator of the repertory comes in November, when the troupe will perform three mixed bills selected by her at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso. The following has been translated from a conversation conducted in Spanish, Valdés' native tongue.
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.
New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns wasn't sure she was strong enough. A ballerina who has danced many demanding full-length and contemporary roles, she was about to push herself physically more than she thought was possible.
"I said, 'I can't. My body won't,' " she says. "He told me, 'Yes, it will.' "
She wasn't working with a ballet coach, but with personal trainer Joel Prouty, who was asking her to do squats with a heavier barbell than she'd ever used.
Her Dying Swan was as fragile as her Juliet was rebellious; her Odile, scheming, her Swanilda, insouciant. Her Belle was joyous, and her Carmen, both brooding and full-blooded. But there was one role in particular that prompted dance critic Arnold Haskell to ask, "How do you interpret Giselle when you are Giselle?"
At eight, Alicia Alonso took her first ballet class on a stage in her native Cuba, wearing street clothes. Fifteen years later, put in for an ailing Alicia Markova in a performance of Giselle with Ballet Theatre, she staked her claim to that title role.
Alonso received recognition throughout the world for her flawless technique and her ability to become one with the characters she danced, even after she became nearly blind. After a career in New York, she and her then husband Fernando Alonso established the Cuban National Ballet and the Cuban National Ballet School, both of which grew into major international dance powerhouses and beloved institutions in their home country. On October 17, the company announced that, after leading the company for a remarkable 71 years, Alonso died from cardiovascular disease at the age of 98.