We know that at some point rain will again fall, but whether good fortune shines on dance is another question. The dance drought continues with no relief in sight. After a slow decline, Metropolitan Classic Ballet closed up shop while Texas Dance Theater, barely four years old, cancelled its 2011-2012 season. Texas Ballet Theater, TITAS and Dallas Black Dance Theatre all cut down the number of performances.
Despite the shrinkage, this year did provide a surfeit of great works, from unlikely sources like Denton's CholoRock Dance Theatre as well as from familiar forces like TITAS. As another bonus, Bruce Wood came out of hibernation to create a string of compelling works. If quantity is lacking this year, at least we had quality.
These were the top 10 dance events of the year (to see the list as a slideshow presentation, click the slideshow icon to the right).
1. Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, a dance installation presented by TITAS at AT&T Performing Arts Center's Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House, Hamon Hall, Dallas (April 9)
The setting was unusual—cramped quarters with no place to sit. Instead, dancers snaked their way around standing audience members, sometimes with dancers perched high on platforms or poking their faces from windows. The effect was slightly surreal, augmented by movement all slinky and slithery, and nothing but intense frowns, stares and piercing glances to enhance the mood. (And here's one of several videos we shot at the event; you can see all of them in the original review.)
2. Mixed Repertory, Texas Ballet Theater at Bass Performance Hall, Fort Worth (Feb. 18)
Shifting gear from story ballets, Texas Ballet Theater revealed that drama can come in many guises. Ben Stevenson's Four Last Songs represented the essence of loss, while company member Peter Zweifel's Love Always Remains suggested the longing for things out of reach. For sheer brilliance, nothing can quite match Balanchine's Theme and Variations. Fortunately, the dancers met the challenge with the elegance of royalty — that is, the ideal of royalty, not the reality.
3. Bruce Wood Dance Project at Montgomery Arts Theater at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Dallas (June 10)
What a treat to see Bruce Wood back in form, offering his throbbing, pulsating Bolero—as decadent as they come—and his raw solo for Nycole Ray, The Edge of My Life…So Far. His gift for subtlety showed up in his new work, Our Last Long Chance, so simple and balletic that only slowly does it pull you in. In contrast, Happy Feet has the freewheeling exuberance of youths at a fair, where life is a lark.
4. Las Mujeres de CholoRock, CholoRock Dance Theatre at the Green Space Arts Collective, Denton (Oct. 29)
Halloween calls for mayhem and roaming spirits, and for artistic director and choreographer Jose Zamora that could only mean a wild and restless Las Mujeres. In Mr. Zamora's hands, traditional Mexican folklórico takes on an entirely new feel, full of tumult and distrust. The flipping skirts and ever-changing floor patterns show up often enough, but unity disappears in a trice, and skirts become weapons. Heady stuff, and we hope CholoRock will be back.
5. Fall Dance Concert, SMU Meadows School of the Arts at Bob Hope Theatre, Southern Methodist University, Dallas (Nov. 2)
In a departure from relying on well-known choreographers like Martha Graham and Paul Taylor, the Meadows School of the Arts turned to eight alumni for inspiration. It hit pay dirt with some, notably John Malashock's yin and yang connection in Silver & Gold; Joshua L. Peugh's comic Shuffle; Annmaria Mazzini's witty, fractured Bakelite Apparition; and gorgeous dancing in Jamal Story's Choose Me.
6. John-Mario Sevilla Residency Performance, University of Texas at Dallas at UTD's University Theatre, Richardson (March 10)
How Mr. Sevilla managed to get away with gags like shoving a cake into a friend's mouth in Pie in the Sky could be explained only by comic timing and an atmosphere of the surreal. Other than that bit of nuttiness, the program had the advantage of some stellar dancing and fast action.
7. Winter Series, Dallas Black Dance Theatre at AT&T Performing Arts Center's Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre, Dallas (Dec. 8)
High-voltage energy may define Dallas Black Dance Theatre, but when it combines energy with commitment, the result is dynamite. As if a haunting Camouflage, or the desperation and determination in The Edge of My Life … So Far, or the heady propulsion of bodies careening in space in Night Run were not enough, the company also offered a driving new work, Vespers. In an emotional landscape, Vespers builds tension with little let-up to biblical proportions.
8. Slumber of Reason, Latina Dance Theater Project at Latino Cultural Center, Dallas (Nov. 4)
Inspired by Francisco de Goya's 80 prints "Los Caprichos," Latina Dance Theater Project captured the grotesquerie and folly of Goya's works, but as for the horrific, nada. Even so, it was so highly polished and sophisticated in its use of projected images, fanciful costumes and arresting movement that we could forgive the fact that even torture was treated with droll humor.
9. Points of Departure, Sarah Gamblin & Friends and Black is the Color of That Kettle, Muscle Memory Dance Theatre at the Out of the Loop Fringe Festival at WaterTower Theatre, Addison (March 5)
No one goes to the Fringe Festival expecting the ordinary, and certainly not in dance. Odd encounters, gestures that fly at odds with each other, and a serious use of crumpled-up aluminum foil inspired all sorts of weird and yet tantalizing images that sparked the imagination.
10. The Nutty Nutcracker, Texas Ballet Theater at Bass Performance Hall, Fort Worth (Dec. 23)
When an iconic figure becomes embedded in one's consciousness—whether it is the Mona Lisa or the Sugar Plum Fairy—someone is bound to take a pot shot at it. And Texas Ballet Theater did exactly that for its hilarious spoof on its annual Nutcracker. Not only did the characters from The Wizard of Oz take over the Stahlbaum's Christmas Eve party, but so did a motley crew that included Elvis, a hyped-up Dirk Nowitzki and Joan Crawford in a mean mood. Too, too funny in the Kingdom of the Sweets were a well-oiled Arnold Schwarzenegger preening and strutting, and Michael Flatley tearing across the room at breakneck speed.
◊ 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, Pointe Magazine and Dance Magazine.
◊ 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 Cheryl Callon's take on the year in dance is here. Look for musings on the year in theater on Dec. 28.