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30 Dec 2007

Top 10 dance events of 2007
Rachel Howard
Sunday, December 30, 2007

Arts & Entertainment 2007

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Rachel Howard: Top dance events of 2007

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HIGH: Gonzalo Garcia farewell performance: War Memorial Opera House (May). Fans of this irresistibly warmhearted San Francisco Ballet dancer knew saying goodbye would be emotional, but we could never have expected a leave-taking like his "Don Quixote." When partner Tina LeBlanc came down hard on a jump and couldn't stand, Garcia gallantly carried her off the stage. Fellow principals Molly Smolen and Tiit Helimets filled in for Act 2, while Vanessa Zahorian rushed across town to dance with Garcia for Act 3. At curtain call, Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson looked choked up, and LeBlanc stood in a leg brace applauding. The triple cast, the palpable concern and affection in the audience for LeBlanc when she fell, Garcia's high-flying bravura - it was the kind of night at the ballet that you never forget. Another tear-jerker: the retirement of the Ballet's incomparable Muriel Maffre (who has since resurfaced guesting with Lines Ballet) just days later.

LOW: The sudden death in April of ballet showman and former San Francisco Ballet co-director Michael Smuin saddened dedicated fans and detractors alike. Fortunately, the Smuin Ballet lives on under his right-hand woman, Celia Fushille-Burke.

MOST IMPROVED: The term "service organization" sounds too bland to describe the revitalized Dancers Group. Again under the leadership of Wayne Hazzard, Dancers Group has surged as a rallying force in the dance community, not only providing fiscal sponsorship (i.e., a nonprofit umbrella) to dozens of local companies but also organizing festivals, collaborating on a statewide initiative to promote dance on the Web and revamping its monthly newsletter, InDance (full disclosure: I am an occasional contributor). The upshot for dance lovers? Check out the comprehensive performance listings at www.dancersgroup.org and you will discover a Bay Area dance scene more lively and diverse than you probably ever imagined.

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: Now in his fifth year as director of ODC Theater, Rob Bailis is hitting his stride as a presenter, nurturing fresh local talent and bringing in exciting companies from New York and beyond. His taste is smart and sophisticated, his empathy for artists is instinctive and his enthusiasm is infectious. Look for him to make an even bigger splash with a series of major festivals at Project Artaud Theater as ODC Theater temporarily closes fora major rebuilding and expansion in 2008.

TOP 10
Shift Physical Theater: ODC Theater (February). "The Shape of Poison" marked the arrival of a major new talent in local Manuelito Biag, whose careful craftsmanship creates scenes of burning emotional intensity.
The Forsythe Company: Zellerbach Hall (February). Rising from the ashes of his famed Ballett Frankfurt, William Forsythe's new company touched a nerve in its West Coast premiere. "Three Atmospheric Studies" made us feel the carnage of Iraq from the innocent civilian's point of view.
Paul Taylor Dance Company: Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater (March). The living legend of modern dance left us wanting more with his new "Lines of Loss," an exploration of grief alternately serene and raw, gorgeous but never prettified. His exquisite dancers won't visit via San Francisco Performances again until 2009. How can we wait that long?
Amy Seiwert/im'ij-re: Project Artaud Theater (July). The gifted young ballet choreographer finally got an evening devoted to her own work, thanks to a revamped West Wave Dance Festival. Bold and brainy, she made classicism speak with a contemporary tongue. Added bonus: the powerhouse dancing of Charlie Neshyba-Hodges.
Mark Morris Dance Group: Zellerbach Hall (September). Morris' "Mozart Dances" may not quite match the soul-stirring heights of his benchmark "L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato," but it's a major work by a choreographer whose ability to illuminate the deep emotional structures of great music can't be beat. His company danced it with pureness of presence.
Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company: Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Forum (October). Jones' harrowing "Chapel/Chapter" forced us to look up close at murder - and challenged us morally by merging the sacred and the profane - with his outstanding company dancing in the YBCA's intimate forum.
Chitresh Das Dance Company/"India Jazz Progressions": Cowell Theater (October). Classical Indian Kathak dancing met tap in this conversation between cultures, and the buzzword was rhythm. Hard to imagine anything more roof-raising than Kathak guru Chitresh Das trading riffs with virtuoso hoofer Jason Samuels Smith - until you toss in a few of Das' disciples and the ear-teasing taps of sensational Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards.
The Oakland Ballet Company: Paramount Theatre (October). Against all odds, Oakland Ballet founder Ronn Guidi restarted his little-company-that-could with a sometimes naughty, often nicely danced program. It was only one step forward - but a promising one. Which Ballets Russes masterpieces will he delight us with next year?
Lines Ballet: Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater (November). Alonzo King celebrated his internationally ascendant troupe's 25th anniversary with a stunning world premiere to live music by tabla master Zakir Hussain. "Rasa" matched Laurel Keen and Brett Conway in an epic, shape-shifting duet. It was King at his spiritually evocative best.
American Ballet Theatre: Zellerbach Hall (November). Superstar Herman Cornejo single-handedly rescued a lackluster show when he tore through the air in the pas de deux from "Le Corsaire." A performance of Jerome Robbins' "Fancy Free," rich in dramatic detail, kept the momentum rolling and showed the Bay Area what we'd been missing in the six years since ABT last visited.
Rachel Howard is a freelance writer.
This article appeared on page N - 11 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Rachel Howard