It’s a cruel task to pick a single favorite in a season that offers so many temptations.
There is the Mariinsky Ballet’s definitive “Swan Lake,” for starters, though this production won’t cast its spell until the very end of the season (at the Kennedy Center Opera House, Jan. 28 to Feb. 2). Coming up sooner is “Play/Pause,” a new work by the fearless, darkly imaginative choreographer Susan Marshall, that contrasts her dancers with projected music videos, and features live music by the electric guitar quartet Dither (at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater, Oct. 29-31). The deeply musical Lar Lubovitch Dance Company celebrates its 45th anniversary with a raft of works including a D.C. premiere (George Mason University Center for the Arts, Oct. 25), and the whimsically appealing Hubbard Street Dance Chicago brings Mats Ek’s “Casi-Casa” and three other works (Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater, Oct. 17-19).
Nor do I want to miss any of the offerings at the University of Maryland’s Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center. Leading off is San Francisco’s Margaret Jenkins Dance Company, a troupe generously endowed with gorgeous movers and thoughtful works. Jenkins is marking 40 years of dance-making with the world premiere of her “Times Bones,” based on the Egyptian myth of Osiris, who was compelled to hunt down the scattered pieces of himself in the afterlife (Sept. 13-14). David Dorfman Dance follows with “Come, and Back Again,” with a live band mingling with the dancers onstage (Nov. 1-2).
The center will also host the world premiere of “Stardust,” by Los Angeles-based David Rousseve/Reality, one of the most sensitive and poetic choreographers I know. In addition to movement, Rousseve uses projected tweets and text messages to convey the inner life of a gay African American teen (Jan. 31 to Feb. 1).
Dance Place, which is undergoing extensive renovations, is grouping numerous local artists into choice, not-to-be missed shared programs off-site, at the Atlas Theater: the Latin Sizzle Festival, with Furia Flamenca, Maru Montero Dance Company and others (Sept. 28-29); City Rhythms Festival, featuring Coyaba Dance Theater, Footworks Percussive Dance Ensemble and Step Afrika! (Nov. 23-24), and the Modern Moves Festival, with Bowen McCauley Dance, Christopher K. Morgan, Dana Tai Soon Burgess, Daniel Burkholder/The PlayGround and more (Jan. 4-5).
This is just to name a few highlights. With all of this bounty, how does one make a top pick? Well, I’m taking a leap of faith, as one has to do in matters of the heart. Having witnessed the choreographic skill, poignancy and great fun of his “Swan Lake” and “Edward Scissorhands,” I’m especially looking forward to Matthew Bourne’s arrival here. His “Sleeping Beauty,” to be performed Nov. 12-17 at the Kennedy Center Opera House, by his company New Adventures, is subtitled “a Gothic romance.” Okay! This is not your storybook ballet. Think dark and haunting, tattered lace and a mood that leans to vampiric.
Bourne will be forever pegged to his Tony-winning, gender-bending “Swan Lake,” with its corps of hot male swans in feathered pants, which played on Broadway as well as London’s West End, and toured/conquered the world. But stronger than the shock value of men in women’s roles was Bourne’s conceptual power to make us see the ballet’s story anew, underscoring its bedrock theme of identity lost and found while upending our expectations. Can he do the same for the timeworn “Sleeping Beauty”?
I’m partial to Bourne for his wildly ambitious — and successful — aim to tell stories without words. To be sure, much of the effect of his grand, musical-theater-style productions comes from their extravagant costuming, lighting effects and music. He knows his way around the elements of theatrical spectacle as well as any Broadway director.
But dance and physical expressiveness are fundamental to Bourne’s work; he is a master at defining character through movement alone. I’m hoping he’ll peel away some of the surface prettiness of “Sleeping Beauty” and, in addition to taking me on a wild spin, I’m hoping he’ll show me something true and honest.
If not, at least Tchaikovsky will be riding shotgun.