Photo by Lois GreenfieldIN A YEAR THAT CAME IN WITH A BANG AND WENT OUT with a decided whimper, there were these 10 memorable performances, in no particular order:
AMERICAN REPERTORY DANCE COMPANY
There's a lot of jiving about the pros and cons of reconstructions. Well done, they are as alive and meaningful and elegant and valid as any new, well-crafted piece of work. The argument begins and ends this year with John Pennington's performance of three studies reconstructed from Harald Kreutzberg's Dance Before God, at the Getty. In a long, black cape with white ropes wrapped around his arms, his hair silvered and the austere angles of his face shadowed, Pennington made shapes that resonated in some deep part of our psyche.
MARK MORRIS DANCE GROUP AND YO-YO MA
Morris commissioned a score from Lou Harrison for his dancers and cellist Ma. Rhymes With Silver is one of Harrison's biggest, most powerful, dense and difficult works. Ma more than rose to the occasion when MMDG came to the Irvine Barclay. Musically, the tones glided out in waves and vibrated against each other, dividing and subdividing and challenging the ear with dangerous, disturbing, gamelanlike sounds that exploded with golden life. Morris responded with an amazing solo section, seeming to divide himself into tones of unimaginable sonority and color, leaving only the ghost of a real body behind. This was pure magic.
MERCE CUNNINGHAM DANCE COMPANY
There he was onstage at Royce Hall on April 16, standing with his company on his 80th birthday. It seemed at that moment the whole world funneled toward him. Cunningham at the vortex with a glowing, rascally smile, dressed in a paisley necktie and purple shirt — all decked out. And happy. Of course because he, like us, had just watched his company dance. There are few higher highs. Cunningham's curiosity is so persistent, so piercing, so radical. He shows no drain of energy; instead there's more and more and more, and Cunningham looks as if he can't wait to do the next dance. He's his own best tribute.
FROM THE HORSE'S MOUTH
(PRESENTED BY DANCE KALEIDOSCOPE)
It's hard to believe that this idea actually worked. The brainchild of Tina Croll and James Cunningham, From the Horse's Mouth gathered many dancers, choreographers, dance teachers and writers who at one time or another had an impact on Los Angeles. Each was asked to compose a 90-second memory about his career. While they spoke, others danced. Some of the most incredibly moving and funny stories were told, succinctly, trenchantly. It was a summation of dance history, given a razor-sharp execution that filled one with pride to be part of the scene.
AMERICAN BALLET THEATER'S LE CORSAIRE
What an excuse for a lineup of some of the best male dancers in this century to show off. Le Corsaire arrived at the Orange County Performing Arts Center after standing-room-only performances in New York. The ballet is a kitschy, insanely improbable classical concoction, complete with dancing fountains. But it's the men you watch: Ethan Stiefel, Angel Corella, Vladimir Malakhov, Joaquin De Luz and Jose Manuel Carreño.
PAUL TAYLOR DANCE COMPANY
Glendale's Alex Theater is where some of the more exciting action takes place in dance, not because of performance longevity (most troupes stay for only one night), but because there is a commitment to hosting more. Taylor announced residency plans for the Alex, and his dancers spent about three weeks working in the community, teaching public school kids technique and exposing them to early Taylor masterpieces. We're all for this, but it's also good that Taylor made one solid new work — Piazzolla Caldera, which sizzled and steamed and exposed us to the desperate elegance of physical sex. Who could forget the beauteous Francie Huber, destroyed by her wants?
DAN FROOT AND DAVID DORFMAN
Their performance of Live Sax Acts at Highways was nothing short of transforming. Coming on the heels of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold's murderous spree at Columbine High School, Live Sax Acts changed my life. It activated me to commit myself to nonviolence through organized channels. And yet, there's nothing holier-than-thou about it. Supremely funny at times, deft beyond measure, artful and sardonic, Froot and Dorfman play the sax, cavort, banter and slap each other around in the name of intelligent discourse. They also make you fall in love. Or just fall.
ALVIN AILEY AMERICAN DANCE THEATER
There isn't a better dance story to end the millennium than that of Ailey, the founder and visionary, who died, leaving his company to former Ailey star Judith Jamison. She outdoes him in her own way. (He would love it.) When the company danced at the Ahmanson in early March, veteran Dudley Williams in Revelations had “younged” instead of aged. Matthew Rushing swept the stage with large, strong, purposeful motions associated with mythic heroes. Nothing museum-y in the revivals. Great rapport between dancers. It was as if the choreography were coming to them at the moment they performed it, which — if you have experienced such inspiration — is bliss.
WHITE OAK DANCE PROJECT
Baryshnikov introduced us to choreographer Lucy Guerin with Soft Center, a duet for himself and Raquel Aedo. He clenched his fist and repeated a pattern of fist-beating on his hip, chest and head. She mirrored him at a distance. Then he left her alone onstage in a low arabesque. When he returned, she fell against him. The collapse exposed a sweet, soft center. What a wonderful contrast to seeing Baryshnikov in Tamasaburo Bando V's spare, simple Dance With Three Drums and Flute solo. The pleasure of seeing how he moves — the mechanics of shape, the haiku of one foot dropping flat. Baryshnikov moves even when still. And now he's found the perfect balance in his White Oak programs of light and dark, slow and fast, old and new works.
ANN MARIE DEANGELO AND BALLET PACIFICA
At the end of DeAngelo's new ballet, Blackberry Winter, the audience at South Coast Repertory sat stunned. You literally could not get up from your seat and proceed as though nothing had happened; the ballet was too beautiful. Propelled through the most chaotic, split-second, ferocious and elegiac course, Ballet Pacifica's dancers allowed the experience of moving to be part of us. We felt how meaning changes and keeps changing — the epiphany of every carefully chosen gesture. Conni Ellisor's score for dulcimer and other instruments indigenous to her native Tennessee was another great find in this memorable work by a choreographer who possesses immense and exciting talent — and from whom we hope to see lots more in the next millennium.