The best of 2012: Dance

Sarah Kaufman
Dance critic December 7, 2012

Cliffhangers both fiscal and presidential may have dominated Washington’s public sphere, but subtler, timeless concerns governed its stages. The year’s most memorable dance offerings presented micro and macro views, from a laser-focused look at transgender individuals to broad questions of how to live harmoniously with the world. But in every one of these performances, the spotlight was on our shared humanity.

Top local productions

1. Dana Tai Soon Burgess & Company’s performance at George Washington University’s Marvin Center in September: An overview of two decades of work, including an absorbing premiere, “Caverns,” confirmed once more Burgess’s deep sympathies and an ability to illuminate several windows of perception at once.

Sarah Kaufman received the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Criticism and has been The Washington Post's dance critic since 1996. But after logging serious sit-time in opera houses, black boxes, folding chairs and dive bars, what moves her most is seeing grace happen where she least expects it. View Archive

2. Dakshina/Daniel Phoenix Singh Dance Company’s revival of Anna Sokolow’s “Lyric Suite” at Dance Place in April: Sokolow, the mid-20th century modern-dance choreographer, is best known for dark portraits of urban isolation and Holocaust trauma. How refreshing and instructive it was to see her rigorous simplicity in “Lyric Suite,” from 1953, which delivers subtle surprises and scuttles expectations. Grateful kudos to Singh for continuing his dedication to this master of composition.

3. The Washington Ballet’s “Alice (in Wonderland)”: Septime Webre’s bright new production underscored his company’s strengths — energy, energy, energy. And his partnerships with composer Matthew Pierce, costumer Liz Vandal and set designer James Kronzer brought high dividends.

Best visiting ballets

1. Paris Opera Ballet’s “Giselle” : This sharp-etched drama between a virtuous commoner and an unscrupulous blue blood resonated for our time, even as it was performed with perfect romantic-era sensitivity. Special honors for Aurelie Dupont’s weightlessness and Mathieu Ganio’s aristocratic hauteur tinged with a liar’s anxiety.


Melissa Greco Liu, left, dances with Jamal Ari Black in Lyric Suite (1953) choreographed by Anna Sokolow as part of Dakshina/Daniel Phoenix Singh Dance Company return to Dance Place. (Sarah L. Voisin/WASHINGTON POST)

2. Ballet Preljocaj’s “Snow White” : This was one of the most original, immersive and deeply felt dance productions to arrive here in recent years, full of new views on how to tell a story, how to dance love and how to demonstrate purity — in the flesh.

3. Bolshoi Ballet’s “Coppelia: An antique ballet can feel intensely alive if it is given believable performances like these, led by a brainy heroine who rejects victimhood and solves her problem with style.

Best in contemporary dance

1. After a 13-year absence, Mark Morris’s “L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato finally returned: One of the great theatrical masterpieces of our time, addressing big ideas of how to relate to the world in ways that are movingly simple and simply magical.

2. Kyle Abraham’s “Radio Show” : A mesmerizing piece by a powerful young artist that offered high drama, broken connections, thudding silence and a firm belief in the clarity of the body.

3. Mirenka Cechova’s “S/He Is Nancy Joe”: This solo performer from the Czech Republic fused comic-book projections with a corporeal language from street and stage, and created a moving account of a transgender journey that sent the spirit soaring. And in the tiniest of black-box spaces.

No. 1 regret

Washington dance fans watched wistfully as attention-getting British contemporary-dance artists Hofesh Shechter and Akram Khan visited New York and elsewhere on the continent this fall (Minneapolis! Montreal!) — but skipped the capital. With exciting new developments in dance and physical theater happening overseas, particularly in Britain, our city of international crossroads should roll out the welcome mat. Audience-building happens best with fresh inspiration onstage.

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