I love countdowns. Whether it's the top-whatever countdown on MTV or VH1 (when they actually played music videos) or the year-end countdown of top news stories, it's always fun to see how others reflect upon the year and see if it matches my own opinions.
This is not one of those lists. Think of this more like the Oscars or Golden Globes, as awards in specific categories, but without the red carpet and snooty-but-witty jokes by Ricky Gervais. And my categories are way more fun than theirs.
The envelope please…
Most Likely to Put a Huge, Stupid Grin on Your Face Because It's So Fun and Cool
The one that tops this category is Texas Ballet Theater's Don Quixote, the "pyrotechnics of ballet" as it's called. The energy exuded from the entire cast was such a joy to watch. Even though the second act lingered on a tad long and the choreography moved at a slower pace, all was forgiven in the explosive third act. The technical excellence displayed by Leticia Oliviera and Eddy Tovar as the principle dancers made this concert pure fun. Everyone got a happy ending, especially North Texas audiences, with this season closer.
Most Deliciously Unforgettable Concert
The same weekend that TBT was dazzling Fort Worth with Don Quixote, Bruce Wood made his much-anticipated comeback in Dallas. Since I saw Bruce Wood Dance Project the evening after TBT, the concert was an interesting experience for me. Considering I still had Leticia's fouette turns in my head, BWDP wasn't initially the thrilling event I had hoped it would be. In fact, I was a little perplexed why other audience members were gushing on and on about the concert afterwards. I thought it was good, but not that good. Then I went home and the performance simmered in my head. And the different elements melted together and released their wonderful aromas. After a week of chewing on Wood's choreography, I thought, "Wow. That was an amazing concert." The humor and glamour of Don Quixote had faded (and would come back occasionally) but the depth of BWDP lasted.
Best Moment for (and from) the History Books
Whatever feelings you may have about Martha Graham, her technique, or her choreography, you have to give her and the company credit for having lasting power. This year's company tour was a walk through history. The first work, Dance as a Weapon, showed how the choreographers of the '20s and '30s used a new form of dance as a creative outlet to voice their different hardships. Not only did we get a reminder of the events of the time, but we saw the power of dance as an expressive tool. Next, the company brought modern relevance with an old work, as they presented current choreographers' interpretations of Lamentations for the sixth anniversary of 9/11. Finally, they performed Chronicle, which included "Steps in the Street," one of Graham's most famous works. Her choreography may not be appealing to everyone, but nobody can deny its significance.
Most Likely to Leave You Speechless…And Coming Back for More
Writing a review over Muscle Memory Dance Theatre (even this teeny-tiny paragraph) usually requires several minutes of staring at a blank computer screen. Amazingly, a critic can be at a loss for words, and M2DT brings me to that point for three reasons. First, their choreography can be pretty abstract, sometimes to the point where this modern dance enthusiast will throw up her hands and say, "I have no clue." Second, regardless of the meaning of the choreography, the actual movements are usually quite fascinating. Lastly, the company members are beautiful dancers. Even the most subtle movements can be wonderful to watch. Those three elements combine in such an odd and intriguing way that sometimes the words don't come. When they do, I usually can sum up a performance in one sentence: I don't get it, but I don't care.
Company I'm Most Looking Forward to Seeing in 2012
Continuing in the ballet genre, this honor goes to Ballet Frontier. I'm excited to see many companies this coming year, especially the big ones brought by TITAS, but Ballet Frontier brings anticipation for a different reason. Each performance, each choreographic work is a wonderful surprise in which I know I'll see something new. Artistic director and former TBT Principal Chung-Lin Tseng not only choreographs beautiful works, but he and the rest of the staff challenge their dancers in different ways, and each time the dancers step up. Whether it's a greater depth in movement qualities, better precision, more commitment to the characters or increased energy in performance, each concert brings an improvement all can be proud of. Even in the elements they lack, Ballet Frontier strives towards an excellence you can see in each performance.
◊ Editor's note: This is the part of our year-end lists/wrap-ups of 2011 for local performing arts. Gregory Sullivan Isaacs' take on the year in music is here; and Margaret Putnam's list of Top 10 events is here. Look for musings on the year in theater on Dec. 28.