If there’s a theme to the hefty spring dance roster, it’s that excellence lies in all directions. Rely on the offerings of any single venue at your peril, for in this season — which looks to be one of the richest in recent years — interesting work, new voices, veteran masters and novel ideas will surface throughout the region.
Consider what’s in store right away for modern dance lovers. Some of the biggest names in the country are coming — for starters, Mark Morris (at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts), Bill T. Jones (at the University of Maryland’s Clarice Smith Center), Ronald K. Brown (at Lisner Auditorium) and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (at the Kennedy Center). In fact, these folks will be here in the same week. Seeing all of them is doable, though it means putting some miles on your car and planning strategically for traffic, as you’ll be making the trek to college campuses in Maryland and Virginia, and popping in to two different District venues.
In a nice bit of artistic overlapping, Brown’s work can be seen on two different occasions in that one stellar week. In addition to his company, Evidence, which will perform “On Earth Together,” accompanied by some of Stevie Wonder’s lesser-known songs, the Ailey company’s six-day engagement includes a revival of Brown’s “Grace. ” This is good news for people like me who can’t get enough of Brown’s silvery-smooth style of movement, a mix of West African, modern, street and club dancing, dusted with spiritual undertones.
We’ll also get two chances to see the work of Kyle Abraham, who made a stunning local debut last year. The Ailey troupe will perform the Washington premiere of Abraham’s jazz-inspired “Another Night,” while Abraham.in.Motion, as the choreographer’s small, excellent group is named, makes a separate appearance at Dance Place in April with his “Pavement,” which explores urban culture.
The Ailey company’s sojourn will be bittersweet, for it means the last time we’ll see the gorgeous Renee Robinson among its number. Robinson, a Washington native who has danced with Ailey since 1981, is retiring after this tour. A final chance to watch her serene, unhurried grace and to feel the unique connection she can forge with an Opera House crowd should not be missed.
As much as native stars dominate the season, a distinct international flavor also prevails. The Kennedy Center’s Nordic Cool festival launches, and dance troupes from Iceland, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Sweden pepper the calendar in February and March. The festival aims to answer what is Nordic about the arts in those frosty lands, and I’m eager to know. For a few of the dance troupes, the answer seems murky. Danish Dance Theatre is run by an Englishman. The director of Sweden’s Goteborg Ballet was born in Romania and ran arts groups in Germany. And the single piece to be performed by Carte Blanche, the Norwegian National Company of Contemporary Dance, is a work by Sharon Eyal and Gai Bachar, of Israel.
More Israeli work will be on view at Dance Place in February when Idan Cohen, who grew up on a kibbutz and was a classical pianist before discovering dance, performs a work accompanied by Mozart piano sonatas. Carla Perlo, Dance Place founder and co-director, said she is “going out on a limb” in offering her black-box theater to Cohen, a relative unknown here who is doing a residency at American University, but such bold strokes are typical of her season.
“It’s different in that there are a lot of touring artists,” Perlo said in a recent interview. “We’ve been very crafty. We go after every possible dollar we can find.” Additional funding from the New England Foundation for the Arts and the National Performance Network will help to bring in Denver’s Cleo Parker Robinson Dance and Karen Sherman from Minneapolis.
Plenty of other contemporary dance is coming up. At Rockville’s American Dance Institute, an intriguing raft of artists includes San Francisco’s storytelling choreographer Joe Goode with ruminations on the cowboy icon. Georgetown University hosts the world premiere of a dance-theater collaboration that pairs playwright Norman Allen (“Nijinsky’s Last Dance”) with choreographer and Isadora Duncan expert Cynthia Word. “Once Wild: Isadora in Russia” looks at the dance pioneer’s work among the Bolsheviks and her romance with a Russian poet, and will feature an original score by Dominik Maican.
Balletgoers have reason for uplift, with appearances by American Ballet Theatre, including Alexei Ratmansky’s new “Shostakovich Symphony No. 9,” and the New York City Ballet, with an all-Tchaikovsky program and other short pieces. The Washington Ballet offers up works by Associate Artistic Director David Palmer and Ballet Master Elaine Kudo, as well as the world premiere of Septime Webre’s “The Sun Also Rises” — yes, the Hemingway novel interpreted in dance — which rates as the season’s chief piquer of curiosity.
One of the biggest ballet events won’t happen on a stage but in the National Gallery, where from May 12 through Sept. 2 the exhibit “Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, 1909–1929: When Art Danced With Music” will showcase some 135 original costumes, set designs, paintings, sculptures, prints and drawings, photographs, posters and film clips. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a live ballet tribute somewhere around that captures the spirit of the exhibition? For the time being, that is left to the Russian National Ballet Theatre, performing “Chopiniana,” the Fokine work that was a Ballets Russes hit for le tout Paris, at Hylton Performing Arts Center in April, and the Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, the all-male spoofers, who perform their version of “Chopiniana” at George Mason University in May. In the latter, laughs will surely abound, but as is typical of the Trocks’ shows, there will likely be good deal of loving respect for their forebears, too.