(Productions listed in alphabetical order)
Carolina Ballet: Light and Dark
Timour Bourtasenkov stepped forward this year not only as a dancer but as a choreographer of note. The movements of his Light and Dark formed a near-Taoist, near-animist nature study, exploring the relationships between light, color and dark in a field filled with irises. Christopher Rudd logged in significant air time in a remarkable lead suggesting the dark impulse, while Margot Martin's answering light never veered into cliché. An early work from a dancer--and now a choreographer--well worth watching.
Choreo Collective: The Firm Believer
Some experiment: a group of dancers and choreographers invited Kathy Colville, a middle school teacher with no choreography background, to make a dance with them. The resulting work, a painterly, theatrical study to composer John Adams' "Christian Zeal and Activity," was one of the freshest things we saw all year. We called it "a fitting choreographic representation of Thornton Wilder's Our Town," an apt descriptor for a moving portrait of a small town community of faith; a depiction of a set of relationships between different people and their differing beliefs. The curious should not miss its upcoming encore performance during the Raleigh dates of the North Carolina Dance Festival.
Cloud Gate Dance Theater: Song of the Wanderers
Souls thirsting for enlightenment plunged into a river made up of tons of polished golden rice in this evocative, spiritual work, meanwhile a monk stood alone, in prayerful meditation, as a thin stream of golden rice rained down on him from above. Choreographer Lin Hwai-min's troupe (which will return to the American Dance Festival next summer) painted pilgrimage with broad strokes on a vivid canvas, enacting religious haikus which ranged from minimal movement to moments of convulsive revelation. At the end, dancers flung handfuls of rice in wild parabolas into the air, an impressive closing fireworks display in exuberant celebration of the Dharma.
Dayton Contemporary Dance Company: Aerodigm
Forget the tributes to flight which preceded it at the American Dance Festival's homage to the Wright Brothers. Bebe Miller's Aerodigm a playful--and above all, imaginative--ensemble work to bizarre broken spoken words by Giovanni Sollima and music by Jurgen Knieper and Laurie Anderson got (and kept) off the ground by taking things lightly. Here endeth the lesson.
M'Liss Dorrance: The Wedding Party
Duke choreographer Dorrance performed a service for a world rushing toward the brink of war by showing us exactly what the people on the other side of the bombs looked like. Her outdoor work, based on the news accounts of an accidental American bombing of a Afghan wedding party, raised the dead. Then it made us face them for a while on a cool October afternoon.
Even Exchange Dance Theater: Bluestockings
Though uneven, the best of Bluestockings spoke to this company's historic strengths. The sparse opening, "Planting," got at the deceptive simplicity of haiku, before dancers read floor, air and the Braille of their own skin as well as their neighbors in "Renga" and got at the rhythms of music and language in "De Dum." Stifled women went ballistic--with knee and elbow pads--in "Censored," just before Allison Waddell demonstrated carnivorous reading skills in their midst.
Tiffany Rhynard: Running with Scissors
Rhynard's valedictory concert before leaving for Ohio State University summed her previous two years' work, at Peace College and Raleigh's fabled Enloe Dance Company. Excerpts from her sharp, and at times sarcastic Advice to the Young to later pieces including Butter and Roses, evinced her by now trademark dry wit, and a sharp focus on gender, relationships and the absurdities of social roles. A manifesto representing where she'd been in two years--and why she clearly had to continue.
Julee Snyder: Root
This strongly imagistic work, designed by Tiffany Rhynard for Snyder, is entirely in keeping with Snyder's commitment to pushing the boundaries between performance art and dance. As Anne Dudley's Requiem played, a series of Pandora-like boxes connected to Snyder's dress by red strings opened one by one, revealing dried leaves. The pensive movements of Snyder, first away, but then swimming in them, recall the temporality of the natural cycles which bind us to the planet. The audience's silence at the end said it all.
Doug Varone: Ballet Mechanique
Arguably Varone's answer to the Godfrey Reggio film Koyaanisqatsi, this jangling interpretation of George Anthiel's chaotic titular ballet critiqued industrialization, meaningless labor and the relentless pace of contemporary life. Wendall K. Harrington's projected visuals evoked bygone eras and science texts while his company of dancers mimicked a "bee-hive in a world where technology has removed all flowers." Like the rest of us, Varone's exquisite dancers were still running for their lives when the lights went out.
Tyler Walters: Two by Four
This ballet experimentalist used Bartok's brief Violin Duos to flirt, tease and play with visual forms, transitions and dance conventions. Fearsome symmetries abounded, but only long enough to be stretched, shuffled, and recombined in a fascinating set of variations suggesting everything from animated Mondrian to cells on the verge of meiosis. If a choreographer's sketch pad looks like these brilliant examples of play, what will his final achievements resemble?
Shen Wei: Rite of Spring (part 1)
We called this world premiere at American Dance Festival a "defining moment in the year in dance," one which added revelation to Fazil Say's already illuminating recording of Stravinsky's original four-hand piano score of the work. Shen's dancers sculpted silence, space and music with an impressive economy of expression on a tasteful slate-gray set divided into chalk-like triangles, in a kinetic and at times suspenseful work which worked well beyond language. Call this the one must-see of the upcoming summer, when Wei presents the completed version at American Dance Festival.
Beth Wright: Lifeforce
Wright's sinuous ensemble work described a human chain and a transport mechanism to suitable trance dance music. A self-lifting chain of dancers enacted coded moves which deposited them upstage in a mass of interchangeable human parts. A serpentine experiment in form, connection and movement--and a hopeful sign of things to come.