Time to think back on the year that has just passed (too quickly!). It seems like yesterday it was just getting started—on a very high note—with visits by a group of dancers from the Royal Danish Ballet and Nrityagram. Did the twelve months that ensued live up to their promise? Perhaps not, but there were some extraordinary performances nonetheless. Here are a few that have stuck in my mind…

Also, what were your favorites? I’d love to know.

The year started off on an extremely high note with the appearance of Surupa Sen and Bijayiny Satpathy (of the Odissi ensemble Nrityagram) at the Metropolitan Museum. Performing in front of the Temple of Dendur (to live music, as always), the two women were electrifying, larger than life, goddess-like. It felt as if they were dancing for each of us alone.

Here’s my review for DanceTabs.

Nrityagram at The Temple of Dendur at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo by Nan Melville.
Nrityagram at The Temple of Dendur at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo by Nan Melville.

A few weeks later, a group of soloists from the Royal Danish Ballet performed excerpts of Bournonville at the Joyce Theatre. It was extraordinary. Despite the lack of sets or live accompaniment, these dancers brought with them a world filled with fishermen, nymphs, and common folk. Their technique was clean and straightforward, singing and and virtuosic, without the slightest hint of pomposity. I will not soon forget Gudrun Bojesen’s death scene in La Sylphide.

Here’s advance piece for the Times on the company. And here are my impressions after the show.

"The Flower Festival in Genzano"; Ida Praetorius, Andreas Kaas. Photo by Yi-Chun Wu.
“The Flower Festival in Genzano”; Ida Praetorius, Andreas Kaas. Photo by Yi-Chun Wu.

Justin Peck’s Rōdē,ō: Four Dance Episodes, was a highlight of New York City Ballet’s winter season. Once again, Peck reveals his ability to match music and movement, to capitalize on the energy of the dancers and the score. What impressed me the most here was his use of comedy, a quality I hadn’t noticed in him before. The ability to take himself—and his dancers—a little less seriously is a sign that he has begun to relax as a choreographer.

Here’s my review of the piece, for DanceTabs.

Sara Mearns and Amar Ramasar in Justin Peck’s ‘Rode,o: Four Dance Episodes. Photo by Paul Kolnik
Sara Mearns and Amar Ramasar in Justin Peck’s ‘Rode,o: Four Dance Episodes. Photo by Paul Kolnik

There was a lot of hullaballoo surrounding Misty Copeland’s débuts in Romeo and Juliet and Swan Lake at American Ballet Theatre (and her historic promotion), but my single favorite Copeland moment during the spring season was her appearance as the Cowgirl in Agnes de Milles’ Rodeo. She revealed herself to be a truly inspired comic actress, and a dancer who is happy (and perhaps liberated) to cast off her glamorous ballerina trappings and go for broke.

Here’s a piece I did for The Guardian about what Misty Copeland represents for ballet.

Roman Zhurbin, Misty Copeland and Craig Salstein in Rodeo. Photo: Marty Sohl.
Roman Zhurbin, Misty Copeland and Craig Salstein in Rodeo. Photo: Marty Sohl.

Alexei Ratmansky’s Sleeping Beauty, based on original notations and other historical sources (photos, prints, written descriptions) was a kind of revelation, giving insight into the ways our perception of certain ballets evolve over time. What a pleasure to rediscover the delicacy and musical responsiveness of Petipa, the softer lines, the singing quality of the upper body and liveliness of the eyes. Not to mention the sumptuousness of the production, the sense of storytelling and warmth exuded by the whole cast. The ballerinas who danced the role of Aurora were transformed, challenged to move in new ways. Isabella Boylston, always a musical dancer, took to the new style with relish and apparent joy. (She was great in Theme and Variations, as well.) I can’t wait to see this production again.

Here’s my review for DanceTabs.

And an advance piece I did for Dance Magazine.

And an article about the designs, for the Times.

And finally, a conversation with Ratmansky about Sleeping Beauty.

10411060_10152897790831958_7127589109919573956_nFor me, the highlight of the Erasing Borders Festival of Indian Dance this August was the discovery of Rakesh Sai Babu, performing in a style I had never seen before, Chhau, from Orissa. The form is acrobatic, profoundly rhythmic, and playful, with a strong folk element. Babu is a captivating performer who knows how to draw the viewer’s attention to small details, a shake of the shoulders, an enigmatic smile.

Here’s my review of the festival, for DanceTabs.

Rakesh Sai Babu in Dandi. Photo by Darial Sneed
Rakesh Sai Babu in Dandi.
Photo by Darial Sneed

More surprises came during a performance of traditional Okinawan dance at the Japan Society in September. More familiar with Noh and Kabuki, I was struck by the liveliness of these dances, their sensuality, and the dialogue between the music and the dance. (Sometimes the dancers even joined in the singing.) Not to mention the breathtaking beauty of the costumes.

Here’s my review, for DanceTabs.

‘Traditional Dance from Okinawa’ musicians; courtesy of Yokohama Noh Theater. Photo by Yoshiaki Kanda
‘Traditional Dance from Okinawa’ musicians; courtesy of Yokohama Noh Theater. Photo by Yoshiaki Kanda

Troy Schumacher continues to explore the collaborative process in his works for his company, BalletCollective. His dancers are colleagues from New York City Ballet. The music is all new, created by young composers working in a style that combines classical music and folk ballads, jazz, electornica. His inspiration comes from paintings and poems, but also, and more importantly, from conversations with his fellow artists. The company’s fall performances at Skirball attained a new level of polish and cohesiveness. But what is still most striking about Schumacher’s works is the sincerity and devotion with which they are performed. The dancers are energized. Harrison Coll gave one of the seasons’ most electric performances in Schumacher’s new Invisible Divide. (And Claire Kretzschmar was once again fascinating and explosive in All That We See.)

Here’s my review, for DanceTabs.

Claire Kretzschmar, by Matthew Murphy.
Claire Kretzschmar, by Matthew Murphy.

I may have been the only person to feel this way, but I though Mark Morris’s new work for ABT, After You, was smashing. Set to a Mozartian-sounding septet by Johann Nepomuk Hummel, the piece is characterized by a luminous simplicity that belies its rigorous structure. There’s no showboating, only a feeling of fraternity and politesse. It has wit, melancholy, attentiveness. It seemed to me to reflect some of the unmannered clarity exhibited by the Danes during their January visit. I loved it.

Here’s my review, for DanceTabs.

Arron Scott, Stella Abrera and Calvin Royal III in After You by Mark Morris. Photo by Rosalie O’Connor.
Arron Scott, Stella Abrera and Calvin Royal III in After You by Mark Morris. Photo by Rosalie O’Connor.

Just as I was beginning to despair that the year would bring any more surprises, I caught Paco Peña’s Flamencura, at The Town Hall. It’s not an exaggeration to say that it revived my somewhat flagging enthusiasm for flamenco. Peña treats this gypsy form as a musical conversation between equals. The theatrics are kept to a minimum. Unsurprisingly, the musical level is exceedingly high. And the dancers an musicians seem to perform for each other. The performance included some of the most exciting dancing and music-making of the year, particularly from Ángel Muñoz and Peña.

Here’s my review, for DanceTabs.

Paco Peña. Courtesy Paco Peña, Columbia Artists Management Inc.
Paco Peña. Courtesy Paco Peña, Columbia Artists Management Inc.

 

Merry Xmas/holidays to all!

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