Yes, there were plenty of lowlights, but a look back at the year in dance provides a good number of wonderful memories—performances that thrilled, inspired or surprised, that resonated long after one left the theater. Here, in no particular order, are those that stood out.
Festival Dance by Mark Morris
The initial delight in March of seeing this warm, romantic, elegantly constructed new Morris work, set to a delightful trio by Hummel, was confirmed and multiplied when Morris’ company performed it at the Rose Theater in August. Robust and delicately folk-tinged, reverberating with deeply human sincerity, this is, for me, a dance you cannot see often enough.
Bright Stream and The Little Humpbacked Horse by Alexei Ratmansky
Is there no end to the wonders of Ratmansky, who provided one of 2010’s best works, Namouna, and is single-handedly rescuing the multi-act narrative ballet from the ponderous ineptitude that mark many such efforts?
Bright Stream, which was performed here by the Bolshoi in 2005, was a known quantity before it joined American Ballet Theatre’s rep this season. But it was a pleasure to have the first impression of this boisterously humorous, consistently ingenious ballet confirmed—and to find ABT fielding four casts deep with talent, all of them responding to Ratmansky’s technical and dramatic challenges. (Special mention goes to to David Hallberg’s delicious transformation into a sylph.)
One month later, when the Mariinsky Ballet arrived as part of the Lincoln Center Festival, we again saw Ratmansky reaching into ballet history, paying homage while creating something newly vibrant. The Little Humpbacked Horse, with its invigorating score by Rodion Schedrin conducted in great style by Valery Gergiev, was an enchanting delight.
Orbs by Paul Taylor
He made us wait 29 years to see this work again, and it was worth the wait. (And then the ever-wily Taylor goes and leaves it out of the large repertory for his company’s 2012 seasons. Go figure.) Set to Beethoven quartets, this hour-long two-part work alludes to the seasons, the life cycle and Martha Graham, and its choreographic inventiveness never flagged. A new generation—with James Samson in Taylor’s original role—took to it with great flair. So when can we see it again?
Martha@…The 1963 Interview
Speaking of Graham, she was back on stage in all her glamorous grande-dame glory, thanks to Richard Move. Presented by Dance Theater Workshop on the anniversary of Graham’s death (and repeated at New York Live Arts in November), this elegant piece of theater-dance featured Move doing his drop-dead impersonation of Graham as she responded to questions during a 1963 public interview. In an inspired bit of casting, her interviewer, the voluble, noted dance writer Walter Terry, was portrayed by Lisa Kron. They went through the interview verbatim, but the evening transcended impersonation and proved to be a stimulating and insightful homage.
Richard Alston at New York Theater Ballet and Fall for Dance
Another distinctively talented Richard, this time one from England whose work isn’t often seen on these shores. 2011 brought two opportunities to see choreography by Alston, who draws inspiration from Cunningham and Ashton as he creates musically sophisticated dances marked by crisp footwork and elegant craftsmanship.
May brought A Rugged Flourish, his bracing new dance choreographed to Copland’s thorny Piano Variations, to New York Theatre Ballet. He proved an inspired choice for this plucky chamber ensemble that mostly focuses its attention on small jewels from the past. In November, Alston’s own company performed Roughcut, set to Steve Reich, and filled the City Center stage with luminous, refreshing movement. At a time when careless indulgence is often splashed across the stage, Alston’s purity and structural sophistication are most welcome.
Eiko and Koma
Their series of 40th anniversary events were all riveting in the way one has come to expect from this sui generis couple, whose incremental movement and affinity for natural settings keep finding intriguing new manifestations. Naked, their spring installation at Baryshnikov Arts Center, exerted a unique power. But nothing could top the haunting beauty and understated dramatic power of Water, the 40-minute work they performed in the outdoor pool at Lincoln Center in July just after darkness fell. Poignant attempts to connect alternated with harsh, unforgiving imagery. The setting was perfect and the event was truly memorable.
Merce Cunningham Dance Company
They graced the city four times, at varied venues, as part of their extensive, historic Legacy Tour, and left us feeling over and over how impossible it is to say goodbye to this exceptional company. But with Cunningham himself no longer there to push dance forward with ever-new explorations, they offered us a generous sampler of amazing works representing many decades. Special highlights were the return of Duets (at Lincoln Center Festival’s all-day Merce Fair), Quartet (a spare, somber work of quiet drama, beautifully performed by a new generation, including Robert Swinston in the Cunningham role) at the Joyce and Roaratorio and Biped (perhaps the most luminously beautiful dance ever?) at BAM. The concluding Events at Park Avenue Armory are still to come as I write this, but I already miss this remarkable company, which has enriched the dance world for nearly 60 years.