Memorable Performances of 2016
The time of lists is upon us. Yes, I admit it’s a bit silly to attempt to quantify the “top” performances in any particular year. But it is also true that there are performances that stay with us, replaying in our brains when we’re doing the dishes or reading the newspaper or sitting in a subway car. Some of these performances, like Miami City Ballet’s Sweet Fields at Lincoln Center, have become benchmarks in my mind. Will it ever be danced this well again? Others, like Kerala Kalamandalam’s kathakali evening at the White Light Festival, took me completely by surprise. What a pleasure it is to discover something absolutely new, and to lose oneself in it. Then there were the performances that filled me with joy – returning my faith in humanity – like Frederick Ashton’s La Fille mal gardée at American Ballet Theatre. So here, in no particular order, are some of the moments that impressed or touched or surprised me most in 2016:
1. Miami City Ballet’s New York season, at the Koch Theater, all of it. What a company! And how they danced! The dancers took New York by storm, offering red-hot, deeply musical, stylish renditions of Balanchine’s Symphony in Three Movements, Twyla Tharp’s Sweet Fields, Alexei Ratmansky’s Symphonic Dances and Justin Peck’s Heatscape, among other ballets.
2. Alexei Ratmansky’s new work for American Ballet Theatre, Serenade after Plato’s Symposium, was, for me, the dance of the year. This meditation on love for seven men and one woman, was the closest thing to a danced conversation I have ever seen. The choreography was so articulate you could practically “hear” each dancer’s voice as he laid out his story and his ideas about love. The depiction of the complex bonds between the men was equally remarkable – they were a fraternity, a community of friends, partners-in-crime, a den of co-conspirators.
My review for DanceTabs is here.
3. As I mentioned above, Kerala Kalamandalam’s performance of The Killing of Dussassana was a highlight of my year. I had expected kathakali, a classical form from the southern Indian state of Kerala, to be static, because of its reliance on heavy costumes, masks, makeup and crowns. To the contrary, it turned out to be tremendously vivid, pulsing with life and driven by visceral rhythms. Through their costumes and training, the dancers are transformed into giants; the smallest movement becomes magnified. Nor was I prepared for the violence and vibrancy of the storytelling.
You’ll find my review for DanceTabs here.
4. Frederick Ashton’s La Fille mal gardée, at American Ballet Theatre, especially as performed by Isabella Boylston and Jeffrey Cirio, was a warm, bright spot in the year’s constellation of dance. Is there a more tender ballet, one that merges innocence and sensuality so completely? Or a funnier one? – particularly with Roman Zhurbin in the role of Widow Simone. Ashton’s “leafy pastoral,” with its ribbons and maypoles and chickens and clog dances, is a respite from the harshness and lack of kindness that characterizes much of life.
Here is my review, for DanceTabs.
5. I found Tere O’Connor’s Undersweet, a duet for Silas Riener and Michael Ingle performed as part of Lar Lubovitch’s “NY Quadrille” festival at the Joyce, to be completely riveting. The “in the round” setting intensified the sensation of two men – Riener, in particular – completely filling the space with their personalities, desire, and vitality. I believe I may have held my breath for most of the dance. There were moments of shocking intimacy, performed as if for the dancers alone.
Here’s my DanceTabs review.
6. Tiler Peck’s musicality is well known, as is her fearlessness and technical control. Still, one of her performances stood out to me this year: the pas de deux during the divertissement in the second act of Balanchine’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, partnered by Tyler Angle. There was no effort at all to her dancing; instead, she was carried along by Mendelssohn’s thin veil of music, as if yielding to a breeze. The final moment, When Angle tipped her over, on pointe, and she softly floated downward toward his other arm, seemed suspended in time.
I mention the moment in this review, for DanceTabs. And here is a video of Peck and Angle in the pas de deux, from a performance at the Vail Dance Festival.
7. Mark Morris’s Mozart Dances returned to the Mostly Mozart Festival after 10 years absence. If anything, it has improved with age. The heart of the piece is the slow movement of the second ballet, “Double,” set to Mozart’s sonata for two pianos, K. 448. The movement is built around a dance for two men who share a relationship of friendship, love and loss. It is one of Morris’s most poignant dances. Garrick Ohlsson’s playing throughout the evening was luminous.
8. Last but not least, Michelle Dorrance’s The Blues Project renewed my faith in humanity just when I needed it most, after the dispiriting results of the American election. The piece isn’t new, but one year after its premiere, The Blues Project has grown more secure, more joyous, more generous. Dorrance’s tapping is eccentric and wild; her star collaborators Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards and Derick K. Grant are powerhouses. But the truth is, the whole company, including the band, shines. And everyone seems to take enormous pleasure from dancing and making music together. A good model for life.
Here is my review for DanceTabs. And here are a few excerpts:
Happy holidays, everyone! Hang in there!