Let’s call this a meditation on a select few notable dance experiences, for it’s far from a comprehensive overview of all the creativity going on in this pandemic year. I spent much of it on a fellowship that started last fall and ended this summer, so my dance watching has been unusually limited.
Of course, dance lovers around the globe also have had to muddle through a prolonged separation from the art form. Reuniting with it has been extraordinarily moving. If you’ve been fortunate enough to attend a live performance in recent months, you may have experienced something of what I felt on first seeing dancers onstage again, when I attended the Paul Taylor Dance Company’s performance at the Kennedy Center in October.
I expected the dancers to be extraordinary, and they were — this is one of the top dance companies in the world, after all. I expected the works, both very familiar, to be complex, narratively powerful and exquisitely crafted, and they were. The program featured two Taylor masterpieces: “Company B,” a warm, nostalgic view of American perseverance, with songs recorded by the Andrews Sisters, and “Esplanade,” Taylor’s deeply personal musings on family and community, accompanied by Bach.
I’ve seen these works many times, and yet this occasion felt at once momentous and intimate. Momentous for what the outing represented: art and artists coming through a horribly dark period intact, and in beautiful, vibrant form. And intimate for the instant human connection, unique to the live arts: that spark in the darkness that makes you suddenly aware of your own delicate, trembling existence, and you’re part of a wondrous circle with the artists and those around you. I felt this way in the theater and I carried the feeling home, and that sustained awareness of the depth of life is one of the gifts of seeing performance in person. Especially something as fine as the Taylor program.
Though it doesn’t match live theater, the pandemic-related increase in live-streaming has been a boon. Live streams connect audiences and their laptops throughout the world with artists they might never see in person. In mid-November, I watched Ashwini Ramaswamy’s “Let the Crows Come,” a fascinating, beautifully developed exchange of dance styles among three women that was live-streamed from the Cowles Center in Minneapolis. Ramaswamy, who is the choreographic associate of the respected Minneapolis-based Ragamala Dance Company, specializes in the South Indian dance form bharatanatyam. She was joined by contemporary dancer Alanna Morris-Van Tassel and Berit Ahlgren, who is trained in the Gaga movement language developed by Israel’s Ohad Naharin. In separate but interconnected solos, the three women deconstructed and adapted the soft, yielding qualities of bharatanatyam and its moments of stillness and playfulness. Though each solo was different, certain shapes and contours reappeared — wide-leg stances, beckoning gestures, spiraling turns — as well as a spirit of inquiry and spiritual searching. Crucially, the camera angles, music quality and lighting were excellent.
Joining live shows and live streams, digital dance also has emerged with its own pleasures and artistic range. Choreographer/director Jacob Jonas, based in Los Angeles, has leveraged his connections to dancers, movement artists and filmmakers around the world into a cache of intriguing short films — most just a few minutes long and featuring stunning outdoor settings. He launched the project last winter, posting the films on films.dance and its assorted social media platforms. Round 2, as he calls it, began in September. These 15 new films are drawn from more than 25 countries, and they’re full of delights. You might start with the swoon-worthy “A Kiss.” It’s 98 seconds of fabulous. It was filmed on a London rooftop and includes the seamless interweaving of elegantly simple surreal effects, the slippery acrobatic moves of Czech dancer Kristián Mensa, and a sweet jazz score that’s light as a breeze.
Creativity unleashed, captured in new ways, widely shared: That’s a remarkable upside of this strange year, for which I’m deeply grateful.
Best of arts and entertainment 2021
Classical music: Michael Andor Brodeur on Noseda reuniting with the NSO, ‘Fire’ at the Met, ‘Only an Octave Apart’
Dance: Sarah Kaufman on Paul Taylor live at the Kennedy Center, Ashwini Ramaswamy, Jacob Jonas’s short films
Movies: Ann Hornaday on Almodóvar, family films, ‘Zola’
Museums: Philip Kennicott on Jasper Johns in two venues, Medici portraits, text-based artist Barbara Kruger
Pop music: Chris Richards on Playboi Carti, Grouper, Yasmin Williams
Television: Inkoo Kang on ‘Succession,’ ‘You,’ Meghan and Harry’s Oprah interview
Theater: Peter Marks on ‘Come From Away’ on the Mall, ‘Macbeth’ in London, a streaming movie
Video games: The Washington Post editors and reviewers on ‘Halo Infinite,' ‘Valheim,' ‘Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart’