\"Brief Encounters\" by Paul Taylor Dance Company, seen at the Eisemann Center in October.

Best of 2010: Dance

Margaret Putnam picks her favorite dance performances of the year.

published Sunday, December 26, 2010

2010 wasn’t the best of times for the dance world, but not the worst either. The loss of Bruce Wood Dance Company four years ago is still hard to take, while Texas Ballet Theater had to cancel live music for the third year in a row. Metropolitan Classical Ballet is barely back in business, again without live music and a much reduced cast.

On the sunny side, Texas Ballet Company is more than holding its own with a strong repertory and outstanding dancers, while TITAS continues to bring in innovative companies. And Bruce Wood is making a come-back too, with performances scheduled for mid-June in Dallas.

These were the highlights, in Top 10 form:

1. Paul Taylor Dance Company at the Eisemann Center for the Performing Arts, Richardson (Oct. 30): That all-American boy, Paul Taylor, turns out to have a dark side, evident in Three Dubious Memories and Brief Encounters. The first was a premiere commissioned by the Eisemann Center. Like the classic Japanese film Rashomon, Memories reveals how people have conflicting interpretations of the same events. In broad strokes painted in almost cartoonish clarity, the action concentrates on three characters and a Greek chorus. Strange music added to the tension.

2. Texas Ballet Theater, Romeo and Juliet, at Bass Hall, Fort Worth (Feb. 13): Artistic director Ben Stevenson’s gift for drama came to the fore in this ballet version of Shakespeare’s classic with stellar performances from lesser characters like the Duke of Verona and Juliet’s Nurse all the way to Romeo and Juliet. Lovers in real life, Romeo (Carl Coomer) and Juliet (Leticia Oliveira) captured every nuance of their joy, fear, and ultimate doom.

3. Dominic Walsh Dance Theater, presented by TITAS at the Winspear Opera House, Dallas (March 18): A former principal dancer with Houston Ballet, Walsh has made a name for himself with his idiosyncratic mingling of classical ballet and a very modern vocabulary. Case in point: Amadeus for Anita, set to various Mozart concertos, symphonies and operas, juxtaposed baroque elegance with pedestrian buffoonery.

4. New works by Bruce Wood, with Texas Dance Theatre at the Scott Theatre, Fort Worth (Nov. 13), and with Dallas Black Dance Theatre at the Wyly Theatre, Dallas (Dec. 8): Wood’s company folded four years ago to the dismay of many, but as a choreographer he’s back in business. Texas Dance Theatre reaped the reward with Surrender. As a woman in distress, Emily Hunter tosses her head, wrings her hands and slams her body face down on the stage covered with autumn leaves. The same theme shows up in another solo for Dallas Black Dance Theatre, this time featuring a fierce Nycole Ray in At the Edge of My Life…So Far, who strews flour as she slides on a table and fights to regain her composure.

5. Texas Ballet Theater, The Nutty Nutcracker at Bass Hall, Fort Worth (Dec. 19): When the Stahlbaums turn out to be the Simpson family and the Mice the Dallas Cowboys, you know something is up. Ben Stevenson’s hilarious parody of The Nutcracker hits the target on just about every angle, whether it is Richard Simmons upstaging Lady Gaga, or Sarah Palin aiming rifle at Obama. “Come Fly with Me” and “Staying Alive” are just as likely to turn up as Tchaikovsky’s famous music.

6. Mark Morris Dance Group, presented by TITAS, at the Winspear Opera House, Dallas (June 18). Oh to have live music in a dance performance! While it was only a solo pianist, and later a trio and quintet, music added richness to Morris’s sometimes deliberately simple patterns in Visitations, as well as complexity to his oddball and fractured Empire Garden.

7. Contemporary Dance/Fort Worth: A Choreographers Showcase, at The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth (July 10): Against a background of a reflective pool and sky and in the capacious space of the grand lobby of the Modern Art Museum, it would be hard not to capitalize on the surroundings. And that the guest choreographers did. Among the best were Kristin Torok’s Grid, which used space as a grid pattern with subtle variations of movement; What’s Your Story Morning Glory, in which Don Halquist runs and swings his racket in an imaginary tennis court; and in Climbing to the Moon, where Halquist propels himself on a diagonal.

8. Dallas Black Dance Theatre, Spring Celebration at the Wyly Theatre, Dallas (May 19): The war between the sexes took on many guises: tender in Arthur Mitchell’s pas de deux—wonderfully performed by guest artists from Dance Theatre of Harlem; combative in Camille A. Brown’s Our Honeymoon is Over—in which a couple come at each other like angry gnats; and sheer campy fun in Christopher Huggins’s Girl Power. Needless to say, girls have the upper hand.

9. Muscle Memory Dance Theatre, The Rubber Room, in WaterTower Theatre’s Out of the Loop Festival at the Addison Theatre Centre (March 6): As much theater as dance, The Rubber Room tells a troubling story about the assignment of New York City teachers to modern “purgatory” where there is nothing to do all day but while away the time. The teachers “sins” range from the fairly innocuous one of muttering four-letter words in an empty hall to throwing chairs. With dialogue, music, simple sets and a palette of red, white and black, the story unfolds relentlessly, while onlookers wonder “why don’t they quit?” Because they are still being paid, that’s why.

10. Metropolitan Classical Ballet, Summer Repertory at Texas Hall, Arlington (July 17): Having to cancel most of the season in 2009, Metropolitan Classical Ballet gets points for sheer persistence. Other than a very lame Nutcracker, the June show was the lone show for the year. Co-artistic director Paul Mejia provided a fluid and romantic Brahms Waltzes and not much else, while that Bolshoi crowd-pleaser, Walpurgis Night with its flamboyant lifts and exuberant satyrs, gave the dancers a chance to “let ’em rip.” That they did.

◊ Margaret Putnam has been writing about dance since 1980, with works published by D Magazine, The Dallas Observer, The Dallas Times Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Times, Playbill, Stagebill, Dance Magazine and Pointe Magazine.

Editor's NoteIn the week between Christmas and New Year's, we'll run our looks back at the year in the performing arts, including: Gregory Sullivan Isaacs' year in classical music and opera; the year in theater from local critic Alexandra Bonifield, whose blogsite Critical Rant is a new TheaterJones media partner; biggest theater and arts stories of the year; M. Lance Lusk's thoughts on the year in Shakespeare; Mark Lowry's look at the year in theater with a best-of list; and the year in local performing arts photos. Thanks For Reading

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Best of 2010: Dance
Margaret Putnam picks her favorite dance performances of the year.
by Margaret Putnam

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