If you’ve read my year-end stuff before, you know I usually avoid hierarchical lists. It’s too hard, and others are way better at it than I. So many factors go into my enjoyment of a concert or company, its impact on me, and why I might find it fascinating. So, here are my random musings from 2016, and as always, it’s in no particular order.
Contemporary: What’s in a name?
I’ve never seen anything so vague as the term “contemporary” to describe a dance style. I suppose critics in the early- to mid-20th century were thinking the same thing about the term “modern dance.” Tack it on to any established genre, and the word becomes a catalyst for blurring the lines even further between styles. But here, I’m going to focus on contemporary modern (that which flows from the traditional modern dance of the 20th century) and contemporary ballet (descending from classical ballet).
The first TITAS offering of 2016 brought a contemporary concert dance company from an unlikely place: Los Angeles. What’s so odd about that, you ask? L.A. is typically known for its commercial entertainment industry, especially in dance. The major dance reality shows are filmed there, and spinoff companies from SYTYCD usually hang close to home and feature the same formulaic style of commercial contemporary dance.
So when Bodytraffic stepped on stage at the Winspear Opera House in January with three delightfully varied works, everyone paid attention. It was my second show of the year, and I already knew it would be on my year-end list. Theatrics, physicality, emotional rawness, and a carefree whimsy played out that night, in a way that was fresh and inspiring. Even my friend and fellow dance colleague, who would be a way harsher critic than me (if she had my job), walked away stunned yet uplifted.
I thought, “This is where contemporary dance needs to go,” a sentiment repeated a few months later.
For its season closer in May, Texas Ballet Theater performed Glen Tetley’s Voluntaries (a groundbreaking contemporary work for its time), Val Caniparoli’s Without Borders, and Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16. The middle work is what resonated the most, although I was impressed with their handling of the latter, as well.
Caniparoli’s blending of forms created a rich vocabulary that the dancers slipped into like second skin. After seeing many variations of contemporary ballet (including dance world giants Complexions Contemporary Ballet), this piece had me thinking, “This is where contemporary ballet needs to go.”
The TITAS Tearjerkers
It’s only natural that TITAS stuff appears on all the dance writers’ lists. Charles Santos really is the master at bringing in the coolest stuff to Dallas, and I’m constantly in awe of how fortunate we are to see these types of companies on a regular basis.
Rarely does a performance move me to the kind of tears that actually leave the eye sockets. It honestly only happens about once a year, but this time I turned into a crybaby twice at Dallas City Performance Hall.
The first was during Cie Hervé Koubi’s performance of Ce que le jour doit à la nuit (What the day owes to the night) in late March. The all-male dance troupe from France but with Algerian origins delivered a truly mind-blowing performance. Using their street dance training as a basis, choreographer and director Hervê Koubi molded and morphed their natural movement qualities to create a blend of dance completely unique to the company. While it could be considered under the umbrella of contemporary modern, the performance on stage transcended all labels. It was so organic, so raw and powerful, I couldn’t help the tears.
April’s showing of Betroffenheit by Canada’s Kidd Pivot turned the waterworks on yet again, because choreographer Crystal Pite’s collaboration with Jonathon Young of Electric Company Theatre was nothing short of astounding.
The two-hour dance theater work delved into post-traumatic stress syndrome, a condition all too real for so many people and their families. Lighting, sets, text, and dance carried the audience through the emotional journey of a character who feels cut off from the rest of the world. It was as if the audience was able to get a glimpse inside the psyche of a PTS sufferer—and it made me weep.
Locally Grown Goodness
Spring of ’16 was a good time for dance, not just because of TITAS and other tours that came to town, but because of the talent we have here in our own backyard.
Dallas Black Dance Theatre II shifted titles midyear to become DBDT: Encore!, and I can probably guess why. Those Roman numerals at the end of a company name can easily conjure up an image of a lesser company, a group of dancers that just aren’t there yet, but that simply doesn’t describe these particular performers. Their Spring Fiesta performance in May and appearance in Dallas Opera’s Show Boat proved that they’re just as good, just as powerful and magnetic as any of the dancers found in DFW’s most elite companies.
Another company that kept popping up on my radar this year was Avant Chamber Ballet. Their March collaboration with Dark Circles Contemporary Dance (more on them later) featured a new Raymonda, but it was Balanchine’s Who Cares? (set by repetiteur and the recently retired Michele Gifford) that caught my attention, due to stunning performances and beautiful execution.
The Women’s Choreography Project in May, a program seeking to expand women’s roles in the ballet world, has had two fabulous years so far. And December’s A Ballet Christmas Carol put me in crossover heaven with its clever mixture of Dickens, Nutcracker, and Giselle.
The aforementioned DCCD seems to have grown up alongside ACB, so their March show was a perfect match, despite their differing aesthetics. Joshua Peugh’s take on Rite of Spring was unexpected, a bit wacky, but utterly brilliant.
Curiously Compelling Choreographers
So many people could make this list, but for brevity, I have two in mind, and for very different reasons.
The first is Bruce Wood Dance Project’s Joy Atkins Bollinger and her choreographic debut Carved in Stone, performed in June during the company’s sixth season opener. With set pieces resembling the ruins of columns and fluid costumes, the dance delivered beautifully picturesque moments, yet transitioned between them with grace and etherealness. The best part came when the cast almost doubled in size to close out the work, proving power and elegance can be achieved simply in numbers.
The second choreographer is actually a recurring guest with Ballet Frontier of Texas, Jay Kim. Last year’s Enraptured and this year’s Remembrance were both set on the younger dancers of the company, and they were anything but forgettable. His juxtaposition of structured, traditional movements against a more flowing, contemporary style resonated remarkably well with the young dancers of the company, so hopefully the assistant professor of dance from the University of Utah will return on a regular basis.
The Nuttiest Nut…
…didn’t have a pirouette in sight. And I was elated. The Eisemann Center in Richardson brought in A Hip Hop Nutcracker for one night only, and the place was packed. Showcasing a variety of styles under the hip-hop umbrella, the work brought the whimsical balletic story back to reality with a few twists, many headspins, and a thrillingly good time.
OUR 2016 YEAR IN REVIEW SERIES
- Thursday, Dec. 29: Comedy by Amy Martin
- Thursday, Dec. 29: Dance by Margaret Putnam
- Thursday, Dec. 29: Dance by Cheryl Callon
- Friday, Dec. 30: Classical music and opera by Gregory Sullivan Isaacs
- Friday, Dec. 30: Classical music by J. Robin Coffelt
- Friday, Dec. 30: Broadway, cabaret and vocal recordings by Jay Gardner and James McQuillen
- Friday, Dec. 30: Dale Wheeler, DFW's theater's biggest super fan, lists his favorite shows
- Saturday, Dec. 31: Theater by Janice L. Franklin
- Saturday, Dec. 31: Theater by Martha Heimberg
- Saturday, Dec. 31: The year in Shakespeare by M. Lance Lusk
- Sunday, Jan. 1: Mark Lowry's essay on the year in theater with a Top 10
- Sunday, Jan. 1: Columnist Danielle Georgiou looks back at her year
- Sunday, Jan. 1: Columnist Shelby-Allison Hibbs gives her wish list for 2017
- Week of Jan. 2: More looking forward to 2017