Batsheva Dance Company in Ohad Naharin’s MAX, photo by Gadi Dagon
It has been an eventful year for dance, and at times, a sad one. We lost Merce Cunningham, Pina Bausch, and Michael Jackson, many companies folded or laid off dancers due to financial troubles, and individuals everywhere involved in the arts – as writers, managers, choreographers, directors, you name it – are scratching their heads and having conversations about how to do more with less. But there were also some new, thriving initiatives, like the Performance Club (which just celebrated its one-year anniversary), Arts in Crisis, and FEAST, which will continue into 2010 and undoubtedly grow stronger. And of course, there were many great performances over the past year that have kept me optimistic and confident that even during the most challenging times, talented artists are creating exciting work. Here are some highlights from 2009, with links to my full reviews.
Zoe Scofield and Juniper Shuey’s the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t at Dance Theater Workshop: A gorgeously harrowing piece that featured distorted balletic movement and a rich emotional history filled with convulsions, gasps, and haunting stares.
Dancers in Zoe Scofield and Juniper Shuey’s the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t, photo by Justine Avera
Emanuel Gat’s Winter Variations at Lincoln Center Festival: This duet for two men played with pauses and fluid motion within a deserted atmosphere that used light and dark to create personal and emotional boundaries. Their rhythmic movement to The Beatles’ “Day in the Life” is unforgettable.
Neal Medlyn in Why Won’t You Let Me Be Great!!!, photo by Zack Brown
Why Won’t You Let Me Be Great!!! at PS 122, conceived by Brendan Kennedy and presented by Neal Medlyn and CATCH: This evening-length show was inspired by Kanye West’s album 808s and Heartbreak, and featured a handful of downtown performing artists who engaged with his songs to convey loneliness, sex, and masculine power, among other themes. Some of the performers even got attention from – or confronted – Kanye West when he attended.
Steve Reich Interpreted Through Dance at the Guggenheim’s Works & Process: Larry Keigwin and Peter Quanz both choreographed works to Reich’s Double Sextet. The results were excellent, albeit remarkably different, and both made use of the Guggenheim’s unique performance space.
Dancers in Larry Keigwin’s Sidewalk, photo by Richard Termine
Batsheva Dance Company’s MAX at Brooklyn Academy of Music: Ohad Naharin’s piece for ten dancers layered movement, sound, and lighting to create a heavily structured, non-theatrical work. Naharin’s chanting, in what sounded like gibberish, was a powerful guide throughout the work.
Rachel Maddow’s PillowTalk at Jacob’s Pillow: Sadly, I did not attend this, but a detailed press release left me wishing I had made the trip to Becket, Massachusetts. Maddow’s speech on arts advocacy and the importance of arts education is itself a work of art. An excerpt is below. Thank you, Rachel!
“Not just in wartime but especially in wartime, and not just in hard economic times but especially in hard economic times, the arts get dismissed as ‘sissy’. Dance gets dismissed as craft, creativity gets dismissed as inessential, to the detriment of our country. And so when we fight for dance, when we buy art that’s made by living American artists, when we say that even when you cut education to the bone, you do not cut arts and music education, because arts and music education IS bone, it is structural, it is essential; you are, in [Jacob’s Pillow founder] Ted Shawn’s words, you are preserving the way of life that we are supposedly fighting for and it’s worth being proud of.”
Gallim Dance in Andrea Miller’s Blush, photo by Christopher Duggan
Gallim Dance’s Blush at the Joyce Soho: The three women and three men in this work, choreographed by Andrea Miller, showed raw, intensely physical movement set within an emotional climate that shifted from dangerously cold to achingly tender and warm.
Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s Event at Rockefeller Park: Performed one week after Cunningham’s death at the age of ninety, this site-specific work was a beautiful farewell overflowing with intriguing contrasts and nuances.
Merce Cunningham Dance Company in Event at Rockefeller Park, photo by Julieta Cervantes
Ernesto Neto’s anthropodino at the Park Avenue Armory: There was no performance here, but the interactive installation provided a sensual playground that made it easy to watch people of all ages take in the sights, sounds, smells (1650 pounds of spices were used), and textures of Neto’s massive creation.
ad hoc Ballet’s HER at the Joyce Soho: Deborah Lohse’s work explored female intimacy, aggression, and desire, and the two main women beautifully captured the complexities of their conflicting characters. Their cruelty and vulnerability felt honest and powerful in the Joyce Soho’s intimate space.
Cedar Lake dancers at the Chelsea Art Museum, photo by Kokyat
Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet’s installation at the Chelsea Art Museum: Photographs, sculptures, and paintings by the fifty-six Iranian artists featured in “Iran Inside Out” set the tone for this compelling piece, which echoed the exhibit’s themes of war, sexuality, politics, and the quest for freedom of expression.
The Dia: Beacon: I didn’t see a performance when I visited the museum in October (although there have been many performances there in the past, including a series by Cunningham), but I still highly recommend a trip to the Dia. Richard Serra’s earthy sculptures are extraordinary.
Richard Serra’s Torqued Ellipse II, photo by Evan Namerow