The Inescapable Top Ten (or So) List
December, it seems, is the time for list-making. The past year lies behind us like a vast dream, in which a few episodes stand out especially vividly. Of course, listing one’s top esthetic experiences over a given period of time is a particularly subjective, almost pointless exercise. But, what the hell; here are a few of the highlights of my year, in no particular order:
1. The Cunningham season at BAM, all of it, from start to finish, but especially Roaratorio, an irresistible celebration of movement, of social dance, duets, Irish jigs, and of Rhythmic diversity; Second Hand, a profound and beautiful meditation on life and death; and Silas Riener’s feral solo in Split Sides, which nearly made my head explode.
2, 3, and 4. The Bright Stream, The Little Hunchbacked Horse, and Seven Sonatas, all by Alexei Ratmansky, all proof that he is one of the most exciting, most humane, most playful, and most skillful ballet choreographers working today. He is bringing a new freedom, naturalness, and technical complexity to the art form, combined with a particular sense of joy and an unforced profundity. I look forward to each new work with an eagerness that verges on hunger.
5. Shantala Shivalingappa in Swayambhu.This young kuchipudi dancer and choreographer (and former Pina Bausch dancer) is technically brilliant, musically dazzling, and emotionally redolent. She tells stories with her eyes, fingers, and feet. And she’ll be performing again, at the Joyce, in a program of non-kuchipudi works, in June.
6. Chase Finlay’s début in Apollo. Seldom does the reality of a début match the expectation, but in this case, but it did, and then some. Finlay transformed himself onstage into the young god and, in one word, was riveting in his first performance of this iconic work. Further proof that works from the past need not feel like museum pieces, this performance of Balanchine’s Apollo was electric, and revealed a young artist with an exciting future ahead of him.
7. Mark Morris’s Socrates, at the Rose Theatre. One of Morris’s most profound, truest works in a while. Here, choreography, music and words (Satie’s song cycle Socrate), costumes (by Martin Pakledinaz), and lighting (by Michael Chybowski) come together as one to create a mesmerizing evening of theatre. The sadness at the end is so great that I can hardly bring myself to applaud.
8. Alina Cojocaru and David Hallberg in Giselle, during ABT’s spring season at the Metropolitan Opera House. These two artists performed with total spontaneity and abandon. Cojocaru’s unmannered, seemingly natural interpretation of the role was profoundly touching; Hallberg’s ardor and amplitude were thrilling. Time stood still.
9. Lauren Lovette’s solo in Christopher Wheeldon’s Polyphonia. The young New York City Ballet dancer emanated an aura of mystery and intense absorption in this quiet, lonely solo, a highlight of what is probably one of Wheeldon’s greatest works.
10. Balanchine’s Episodes and Tombeau de Couperin at New York City Ballet. The highlight of the “Black and White” week during the company’s spring season, at least for me, was these two ballets. Episodes, because it is endlessly surprising and strange, and switches in tone from section to section. Couperin, because of its magnificent geometries, and the joy it brings out in the dancers.
11. José Manuel Carreño’s farewell from A.B.T., because it is a comfort to see a dancer taking his final bow with such grace, serenity, and generosity toward his audience. His smile at the end was priceless.
12. Tiler Peck’s dancing, in any role. Beause of her unforced virtuosity, her natural musicality, and the way she makes everything look so easy.
13. The Royal Danish Ballet’s La Sylphide, at the Koch Theatre in June. The company reminded us that balletic mime can be a highly engaging art, and that sky-high extensions and big, athletic dancing aren’t everything. Sometimes delicacy and detail can be even more interesting. And because of the incredible articulation of their feet, and the sensitivity of their hands.
14. Big Dance Theatre’s Supernatural Wife, for reminding us that dance and theatre can be brought together in an intelligent, engaging way, when there is good writing, and enough talent to go around.
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