Doug Varone and Dancers

Year in Review: Dance

Dance critic Margaret Putnam picks the 10 best local performances of 2012, with some extra nods thrown in.

published Thursday, December 27, 2012

Like a bellows, the dance world expands and contracts, expands and contracts, spurred on by opportunities, whims, inspiration, the need to create, the need to share. The local community has experience its share of change—companies falling by the wayside, others picking up the slack, but the real change this year is:  Movies. Or to be accurate, dance filmed for movie theaters.

Even within the category of dance films, there are two very different genres. The first is the ground breaking Pina, Wim Wenders' Oscar-nominated 3-D documentary that brings the audience face-to-face with wild, intense dancers. We get the same in-your-face experience in Matthew Bourne's equally intense Swan Lake, also in 3-D.

But what you are going to be seeing in abundance will be dance filmed live in performance and relayed to movie theaters around the world. The opera world caught onto that a few years ago, and now dance companies are following suit. The somber Nederlands Dans Theater offered a grim Rite of Spring, two clever "Black and White Ballets," and an even more clever Swan Song, where grand, moving staircases shouted "danger." That was in November, and on its heels came the Bolshoi Ballet's Pharaoh's Daughter and two Nutcrackers—one from the Kirov and the other the Royal Ballet Nutcracker (as though we don't have enough Nutcrackers here). Expect a huge spate of dance films next spring.

Popcorn anyone? You don't even have to get dressed up. The challenge will be to find out when they are showing.

Here are my 10 favorite local performances. You can also click on the slideshow icon underneath the photo box above and view the list as a slideshow presentation.


1. Doug Varone and Dancers, TITAS at the AT&T Performing Arts Center's Winspear Opera House, Dallas (Sept. 20) 

Free-wheeling and reckless sums up this company, whether performing Carrugi or the ironically titled Able to Leap Tall Buildings. Barbie and Ken showed up in Leap, ping-ponging over each other.


2. Bruce Wood Dance Project Program 1, Montgomery Arts Theater, Booker T. Washington High School for the Visual and Performing Arts, Dallas (June 22)

Grateful to see once again Bruce Wood's zany paean to all-things-Texas in Lovett!, we were even more grateful to see his newest, the poignant I'm My Brother's Keeper.


3. Baroque Music and Dance in London and Versailles, New York Baroque Dance Company, presented by Dallas Bach Society at Southern Methodist University, Caruth Auditorium, Dallas (Feb. 13)

This company always makes a compelling case for reinstating the aristocracy, whether it is French or English. We got a hint of English reserve and French charm, displayed by shy glimpse, a dropped silk handkerchief, a fan held to the cheek.


4. Stephen Petronio Company, TITAS at Winspear Opera House, Dallas (Nov. 17)

The company's Architecture of Loss generated either a love or hate reaction, and there didn't seem to be an in-between. The well-honed, ballet-trained dancers brought power to simple movements in a work that was both somber and abstract, making a nice contrast to the circus atmosphere of Underland.


5.  Peer Gynt, Texas Ballet Theater at Bass Performance Hall, Fort Worth (Oct. 20)

Ben Stevenson captures the tempest-toss turmoil of Ibsen's play with a Peer reckless and yearning in Lucas Priolo, and likable for all his callous acts. But much of the drama came when Peer is caught in a maelstrom of drunken orgies, wild village dances and mayhem in a crowded asylum.


6. Winter Series, Dallas Black Dance Theatre at AT&T Performing Arts Center, Wyly Theatre, Dallas (Dec. 8)

This company likes nothing better than to let loose, and that it does in Zack Law Ingram's Phoenix, where ferocity meets danger, or in a different mood of saucy, jazzed up energy in Rennie Harris's Thinking of You


7. Fall Arts Concert, Southern Methodist University Meadows Dance Ensemble at Bob Hope Theatre, Dallas (Nov. 9)

Showing off its range of styles, Meadows Dance Ensemble tackled classical ballet with aplomb in Dr. Mel A. Tomlinson's Le Coeur de Ballet (the heart of ballet) while shifting to wired-up nerve in Billy Siegenfeld's Getting There. It was all late-night, drop-your-guard feel in Bruce Wood's Zing a Little Song, supported by live music.


8. Sounds of a Sleepless Night, Simple Sparrow Dance Company at MCL Grand Theater, Lewisville (Oct. 27)

Just like the name of the company, everything in the nine pieces in the program was swift and unpretentious, whether it was the bold movements of Let Us Be Brave to the poetic Swan Song.


9. The Trace of Purple Sadness, in Teatro Dallas' 15th International Theatre Festival at South Dallas Cultural Center (Feb. 15)

With the clever use of video transforming the body of dancer/choreographer Ximena Garnica into shapes that sometimes become not even human, we understand what power lighting, video and sound can add to dance. Illusions flowed seamlessly from one tiny gesture to the next, some of it quite magical.


10. Perro y Sangre (Dog and Blood), the Ochre House and the Dallas Flamenco Festival at Ochre House, Dallas (Oct. 25)

If Matthew Posey's Perro y Sangre (Dog and Blood) — about the young Hemingway and his wife caught in a dangerous village — turned out to be a bit murky, at least the acting and fierce flamenco dancing kept you riveted. And the puppet dog was so menacing he almost stole the show.


Although it does not fit in with the top ten local dance events, Houston Ballet's "Made in America" has to be mentioned as the best thing I saw all year (May 31 at the Wortham Theater Center, Houston). The childlike innocence of Mark Morris' Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes contrasted to the edgy intensity of See(k) with its bold and striking phrasing and long-suspend counter-weight holds. And then there was Balanchine's Theme and Variations. One word for it: sublime. Here's my review.

And here are the top three dance films I saw:

  1. Pina, directed by Wim Wenders, documentary, Feb. 3. Dance and film became brilliant allies in Pina, thanks to the introduction of 3D. Dancers loomed spectacularly close, whether on stage,  riding on a suspended monorail, or sliding down an industrial landfill. Add to this choreographer Pina Bausch's gift for theater and tantalizing images that suggest, not state, meaning.
  2. Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake, March 21. Filmed live at Sadler's Wells in London in 3D, Bourne's version is testosterone-charged and harrowing from start to finish, thanks to buzz-cut, bare-chested swans, their threatening leader and a court—circa 1950—full of intrigue and corruption. No wonder the Prince discovers that love—true to the Romantic era—is unattainable.
  3. Nederlands Dans Theater, Nov. 24. For a heavy dose of northern European dire sensibility, we get our share in four works filmed live and in high definition on stage in the National Theater in London. Rite of Spring could not have been more dour, but the high energy of the Jiri Kylian's two "Black and White Ballets" and their dream like qualities offered a welcome sparkle.


◊ 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.

◊ The following are also in TheaterJones' Year in Review series:

  • The year in comedy by comedy writer Amy Martin here
  • The year in theater by chief theater critic Mark Lowry here
  • The year in dance by chief dance critic Margaret Putnam here
  • More thoughts on dance by critics Cheryl Callon and Katie Dravenstott here
  • The year in music and opera by chief music critic Gregory Sullivan Isaacs here
 Thanks For Reading

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Year in Review: Dance
Dance critic Margaret Putnam picks the 10 best local performances of 2012, with some extra nods thrown in.
by Margaret Putnam

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