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The Best Feet Forward 

The year in dance

Wednesday, Jan 6 1999
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Photo by Carol Rosegg/Joan Marcus
About dance in 1998, this can be said: It is getting harder to support a company, to keep one's grasp on dancers, to feed them, and have them be seen by a broad and discerning audience. Distractions abound. The following picks, listed in no particular order, are based on a gut reaction that these 10 companies had no agenda beyond the dance. They were, in other words, the least self-interested, contrived, desperate or purely commercial.

Baryshnikov: He came to the Wiltern Theater in February with a program of solo works, turning the considerable force of his intelligence, passion, morality and physical instrument on the choreography and making us see beyond steps and individual gestures to that ineluctable thing called the spark. He manifests ideas in human form as no other, and -- strangely -- his powers only increase the older he gets.

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Fred Strickler: His Tacit Understanding on the "Feet Speak" program at Occidental College's Keck Theater in August essentially ripped our blinders off and revealed the field of tap dance to hold countless untold possibilities. But he did it with such artful stealth and dignity, you almost didn't notice his little revolution.

Bring In 'Da Noise, Bring In 'Da Funk: What Strickler accomplished solo, this Broadway showcase, historical retrospective and talent-laden piece of total brilliance delivered. The dancing, the drumming, the singing could not be touched. But in the end, it was the beauty of the work's structure -- how it moved through the course of American black history, as conceived by Savion Glover and George C. Wolfe -- that will be remembered.

Kim Itoh: His appearance at the Japan America Theater with his group piece 3 Sex was an incredible experience -- like that of looking through a microscope and watching an amoeba wriggle, splurtch and puddle-pool into a seemingly endless number of forms. Itoh is that in life-size, male, human form; he defines transformation. And his spiritual dimension keeps him above the freak show.

Miranda Weese: Much was right about all of the New York City Ballet performances at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, but of the images that are indelibly etched in the mind's eye, Miranda Weese in Balanchine's Raymonda Variations remains the most vivid. She's living proof that the ballerina is not dead and that ballet need not be marginalized into an ethnic subculture.

Mark Morris Dance Group: Who can listen to Bach, Lou Harrison, John Harbison or Monteverdi the same way after having seen Mark Morris' choreography? His program in October at UCLA's Royce Hall, with live musicians and singers, brought a high to the year and restored faith that it is still possible to have a dance company that thrives on new works, yet bows low to tradition.

Charlotte d'Amboise: She was whacked, not quite centered, and so charming and different and daring (dancing and singing as Roxie Hart in the revi-val of Kander and Ebb's Chicago at the Ahmanson in June) that d'Amboise just might be the best thing to happen to musical theater in decades. She certainly showed Bob Fosse to be the choreographic genius he was, which is something the other show at the Ahmanson in October -- Fosse -- failed to do.

Gema Sandoval and Loretta Livingston: Sandoval, the head of an esteemed, locally based Mexican folk-dance troupe, and Livingston, an accomplished modern choreographer and former Lewitzky leading dancer, joined forces at Cal State L.A.'s Luckman Theater for a piece they created in tribute to Cesar Chavez. They had the brilliance not to make it biographical, but to aim for an atmosphere, a portrait, a summation. The dancing, particularly in the ensemble marching sections, astonished.

American Repertory Dance Company: Few companies make you feel honored to see them. It would be one thing if co-founders Bonnie Oda Homsey and Janet Eilber were content to reconstruct masterpieces and lost minor works from such modern icons as Isadora Duncan and Mary Wigman with an attention to historical detail that is above reproach and then leave it at that. But they -- and their wondrous dancers -- made you think you'd seen Duncan and Wigman for real.

Laurence Blake: For the spring concert of Pasadena Dance Theater, former Joffrey dancer Blake created a piece, L'Estro LeMone, dedicated to the troupe's founder, Evelyn LeMone, and demonstrated yet again that he is someone who should be taken very seriously as a ballet choreographer -- especially as he concentrates on pure classicism. He's the genuine article.

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