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The best and worst of 2009: Dance

By Sarah Kaufman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 20, 2009; E06

Best

1. "Disfarmer" by Dan Hurlin, Nov. 5-6 at Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center: This deeply poignant mystery tale featured a cranky and insistently human puppet. In choreographer-turned-puppeteer Hurlin's hands, Arkansas' nearly forgotten portrait photographer Mike Disfarmer became an unforgettable American hero.

2. Merce Cunningham's "Sounddance," July 14 at Wolf Trap: Cunningham's ecstatic celebration of life, created in 1975, roared like it was new-made. Less than two weeks later, Cunningham, 90, was dead.

3. "La Sylphide," performed by the Washington Ballet Feb. 12-15 at the Kennedy Center: The company did right by Danish choreographer August Bournonville's tender, tragic 1836 tale, which starred American Ballet Theatre's David Hallberg.

4. New York City Ballet, March 4-8 at the Kennedy Center: Among the many highlights were "Mercurial Manoeuvres," Christopher Wheeldon's mind-enlarging meditation on extremes, and the geyser force of Alexei Ratmansky's "Concerto DSCH."

5. "Mozart Dances" by Mark Morris Dance Group, Jan. 29-31 at the Kennedy Center: Morris found a common thread between ballet and modern dance here, with the warmth of the romantic era and the full-bodied heft of his own barefoot idiom.

6. "Le Corsaire," performed by the Bolshoi Ballet, June 16-21 at the Kennedy Center: The mighty Bolshoi made you believe in every last pirate, harem girl and pasha.

7. Joe Goode Performance Group, May 1-2 at Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center: Goode's "Wonderboy" featured exquisitely responsive dancing, while "Maverick Strain," a wink-wink deconstruction of the screenplay for "The Misfits," was irony-soaked fun.

8. "Pillar of Fire," performed by American Ballet Theatre, Feb. 17-19 at the Kennedy Center: Bravo to ABT for revisiting this searing 1942 work by unconventional ballet auteur Antony Tudor.

9. "Wallstories" by Nejla Yatkin, Oct. 3-4 at Dance Place: Local artist Yatkin marked the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall with sharp flashes of life behind the barrier.

10. "Island" by Dana Tai Soon Burgess, Oct. 9-11 at Dance Place: D.C.-based Burgess employed a cool, stylized touch to conjure the past with piercing immediacy in this evocation of Chinese immigrants at the Angel Island detention center in San Francisco Bay in the early 1900s.

Worst

1. The Royal Ballet's "Manon": Kenneth MacMillan's misogynistic bodice-ripper recalls his far greater "Romeo and Juliet," so why keep both around? Life is too short, and "Manon" is irredeemably long (not to mention off-target) on female frailty, male lewdness and sexual cruelty dressed up as art.

2. American Ballet Theatre's premiere of George Balanchine's "Allegro Brillante": This attempt demonstrated the need for consistent, ongoing coaching to pass on the subtle intricacies missing in the focus on technique, technique, technique.

3. The Washington Ballet's "Don Quixote": It was wonderfully danced, but suffered from canned music, a decision made under financial strain. It's a regrettable if understandable move; but why, then, proceed with a grand classical ballet that cries out for rich sound?

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