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In the News > Dance 2011: Highs, Lows, and Top 10 Moments

25 Dec 2011


Maria Kochetkova and Gennadi Nedvigin in Balanchine's Coppelia.


High: Maria Kochetkova and Gennadi Nedvigin at San Francisco Ballet. In the greatest partnerships in ballet, the union is greater than the sum of its parts, and so it was with these two dancers throughout the 2011 season. It wasn't just that his princely comportment set off her delicate phrasing in "Giselle," or that his rakishness highlighted her vivacity in "Coppelia." So well matched in their impeccable Russian training, Kochetkova and Nedvigin serve up not only artistry of the highest caliber but also that inexpressible, mysterious excitement born of potent onstage chemistry.

Low: The premature retirement of Miami City Ballet Artistic Director Edward Villella. The word that Villella was being ousted by his board sent ripples of outrage through the dance world. Now there are signs that a similar fate may await Ballet San Jose Artistic Director Dennis Nahat. Tracking fiscal health is a board's mandate, but when it ventures into artistic decisions and treats a ballet company like a business machine, the real loser is the art form.

Most improved: Company C Contemporary Ballet. It's been nearly 10 years since Charles Anderson founded Company C Contemporary Ballet with a handful of firecracker dancers. Now, with a robust roster and a repertoire that boasts works by Twyla Tharp, Paul Taylor and Lar Lubovitch, the little company that could has become the one that has arrived.

MVP: Joan Lazarus and the WestWave Dance Festival. In the past 20 years, WestWave has offered audiences an astonishing amount of dance - some of it experimental, some of it dazzling and, yes, some of it inconsequential. But this indispensable summer festival - curated for 17 years under the perceptive eye of Joan Lazarus - remains an invaluable pulse point for Bay Area dance.

Top 10


"La Sylphide" (Royal Danish Ballet, Cal Performances, June 1) The enormous care and loving attention to detail that the Royal Danish Ballet lavished on "La Sylphide," one of the oldest in active repertoire, easily transferred this fanciful Romantic-era morality tale squarely into the 21st century and demonstrated how to make even the most superannuated ballet absorbing and lively.

San Francisco Dance Film Festival (March 24-27) In just two years, producer Greta Schoenberg has expanded the San Francisco Dance Film Festival from a couple of short-subject programs to a three-day event. Showcasing experimental shorts to longer works such as Jerome Robbins' "NY Export: Opus Jazz," the festival has deftly filled the need for a local platform for dance on camera.

Merce Cunningham Dance Company Legacy Tour (Cal Performances, March 4 and Stanford Lively Arts, Nov. 1) Since Merce Cunningham's death in 2009, his company has made stops at all the old familiar places with heartfelt and sometimes surprisingly moving performances. In a farewell tour of works that showed Cunningham at his brainy best, the company gave us a blueprint for the classy way to make an exit.

"Romp" (LEVYDance, Nov. 17) Exhilarating, unexpected and succinct, Benjamin Levy, Scott Marlowe, Melodie Casta and the high-energy dancers of "Romp" showed us what dance could look like when pushed out of its confines with out-of-the-box thinking.

"Entity" (Random Dance, SF Performances, Nov. 11) Heady and densely woven, Wayne McGregor's "Entity" explored the brain-body connection with a boldness that was maddening in its complex intellection and yet breathtaking in scope and execution.

ODC's 40th anniversary season (March) In their Dancing Downtown season, the troika of Brenda Way, KT Nelson and Kimi Okada reaffirmed ODC's status as a top-flight dance institution. No matter which program you went in for, as always with ODC, you knew you could anticipate superlative, witty modern dance par excellence.

"Sole Love" (Left Coast Leaning Festival, Dec. 1) At just 15 minutes, the appearance of Los Angeles tapper Jason Samuels Smith at the Left Coast Leaning Festival was packed with a jazz-inflected world of rhythm, humor and wisdom delivered by a master hoofer.

"Danzon" (Tanztheater Wuppertal, Cal Performances, Dec. 2) You can write it down and record it, but a dance must be a dynamic, breathing thing living in the bodies of its performers, and Tanztheater Wuppertal has embraced the task of keeping the legacy of German choreographer Pina Bausch fresh and vibrant. With a moving performance of "Danzon," the company affirmed that death need not mean the end.

"Bright Land" (Kate Weare & Dancers, April 29) If the old-time music of the Crooked Jades provided a measure of nostalgia to Kate Weare's nimble "Bright Land," there was nonetheless also a shrewd contemporary edge to this sensitive journey through American landscapes.

"Response to Change" (Oakland Ballet, May 20) With a history of both triumphs and reversals, it was heartening to see Oakland Ballet return to the stage, now under the direction of Graham Lustig. The company's performance of Amy Seiwert's "Response to Change" was both a neoclassical challenge and a declaration of resolve. {sbox}

Mary Ellen Hunt is a freelance writer. Send comments to sadolphson@sfchronicle.com.

This article appeared on page P - 12 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/12/22/PKNO1MA41S.DTL#ixzz1j4bsFsKG

Mary Ellen Hunt