It’s that time again, when little girls dream of sugarplums and ornery critics reflect back on a year of performances. What moved us? What made us laugh, surprised us, or forced to pay attention?

Here, in no particular order, are a few of my favorite things from the year that is coming to a close:

 Alexei Ratmansky’s Pictures at an Exhibition

This new work for New York City Ballet took Mussorgsky’s piano suite in a direction no-one expected, toward an abstraction that was nonetheless colored by stories, folk elements, a little touch of madness. The ballet was funny, mysterious, and, most of all, exploding with life. Wendy Whelan and Tyler Angle danced an extraordinary, bird-like pas de deux. Everyone looked energized.

Here’s my review for DanceTabs.

Sara Mearns in Ratmansky's <I>Pictures at an Exhibition</I>.<br />© Paul Kolnik. (Click image for larger version)
Sara Mearns in Ratmansky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

 

Jennifer Ringer and Wendy Whelan Farewells at NYCB

Two extraordinary, beautiful, unique dancers bade farewell to the stage with grace, generosity, and joy. Ringer’s performance was characterized by her usual musicality and ease. Whelan took her leave with a tailor-made program that included a brief new work created just for her by Christopher Wheeldon and Alexei Ratmansky.

See my tribute to Whelan here and my review of the Ringer performance here.

Jenifer Ringer and Gonzalo Garcia in Dances at a Gathering.© Paul Kolnik. (Click image for larger version)
Jenifer Ringer and Gonzalo Garcia in Dances at a Gathering. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

 

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Surrounded by the gathered company. Photo by Paul Kolnik

 

Frederick Ashton Festival at the Sarasota Ballet

These four days filled with Ashton ballets, lectures, panels, and films were really a full immersion in the choreographer’s world and style. Thanks to the leadership of Iain Webb and Margaret Barbieri, the company brings a real affection and sense of ownership to the ballets. They’re not museum pieces. They let the wit and charm speaks for themselves.

You can read about my trip down to the festival here.

Ricardo Graziano, Victoria Hulland and Ricardo Rhodes in Frederick Ashton's Monotones II.© Gene Schiavone. (Click image for larger version)
Ricardo Graziano, Victoria Hulland and Ricardo Rhodes in Frederick Ashton’s Monotones II. Photo by Gene Schiavone.

 

Ashton’s Cinderella at American Ballet Theatre

Ashton is having a bit of a come-back and thank god for that. The warmth of his ballets really has no equal. They’re the perfect foil for the cool idealism of Balanchine. Ashton’s Cinderella replaced a rather hokey version by James Kudelka. From the silliness of two sisters—played by men— to the crisp, doll-like movements of the corps and Cinderella’s stitch-like bourrées at the ball, this Cinderella is a winner.

Here’s my review for DanceTabs.

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Roman Zhurbin and Craig Salstein in Cinderella. Photo by Rosalie O’Connor.

 

Matthew Rushing’s Odetta for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

This première, a tribute to the folk/gospel/jazz singer Odetta Holmes, seemed to reach beyond the stage into the cultural life of the nation. The sadness and anger in Odetta’s voice lent the work its power, but Rushing’s choreography reflected his own generosity of spirit and hope. These feelings seemed especially relevant given recent reminders that racial injustice is still very much part of daily life in this country.

Read more about Odetta here.

 

 

Hope Boykin in Matthew Rushing's ODETTA.  Photo by Steve Wilson
Hope Boykin in Matthew Rushing’s ODETTA. Photo by Steve Wilson

 

Jesus Carmona at the Flamenco Festival

 This young flamenco dancer lit up the stage with his blistering footwork, anarchic energy, and impish flair at the Flamenco Gala. Let’s hope he returns soon with his own program.

Here is my review of the gala.

 

Balanchine at New York City Ballet

The company is giving some of the most exciting performances I’ve seen. The dancers, especially the women, are on a tear. There are so many to choose from, and why choose? Each has her own style and approach. Tiler Peck, Sara Mearns, Sterling Hyltin, Ashley Bouder, Ashley Laracey, Lauren Lovette, Teresa Reichlen, Claire Kretzschmar… An embarrassment of riches. The Balanchine repertoire is looking as good, and as fresh, as I’ve ever seen it.

Here’s a review of two weeks of Balanchine this fall.

Teresa Reichlen in <I>Movements for Piano and Orchestra</I>.<br />© Paul Kolnik. (Click image for larger version)
Teresa Reichlen in Movements for Piano and Orchestra. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

 

Ballet 422

 A documentary about the making of Justin Peck’s Paz de la Jolla. Quite possibly the best dance film I’ve seen.

 

Aakash Odedra at Fall for Dance

The young English-born dancer of South Asian descent specializes in kathak and barata natyam, two classical Indian dance forms. His solo, “Nritta,” was one of the highlights of the festival. It had the speed, spins, and silvery quality of kathak, and the attack and lightness of kuchipudi. He has a phenomenal jump that comes out of nowhere. Hopefully, he’ll be back. You can see a clip here:

 

Not dance, but….

Heisei Nakamura-za Kabuki troupe in The Ghost Tale of the Wet Nurse Tree.

The company, which has been staging Kabuki theatre for eighteen generations, brought a show full of magical quick-changes, comic-book villains, beautiful hand-made sets and charming special effects, including a waterfall. One performer, Nakamura Kankuro, played three different characters, sometimes even doing battle himself. It was impressive, and it was fun.

I wrote about the show in the final edition of DanceView.

The Nose and Lady Macbeth of Mtensk at the Metropolitan Opera

The new Prince Igor, Onegin, and Two Boys were disappointments, but these two productions were a shining example of how vibrant and vital opera can be. Strong casts, intelligent stagings, and the innovative, visceral, and always surprising music of Dmitri Shostakovich.

I’d love to hear your favorites….

 

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