The dance year has been full of pleasures but few surprises or startling innovations. Fabulous performances of established classics took precedence over new creative works or trends.
The San Francisco Ballet’s incandescent performance of Jerome Robbins’ “Dances at a Gathering” led the year’s highlights. The company, appearing here in late November, brought a lively understanding to this extraordinary work. Mr. Robbins’ ballet calls for just 10 dancers, yet suggests a world of delicate, fragrant emotions.
Yuan Yuan Tan, who seems to be the company’s unofficial prima ballerina, was breathtaking in the way her fluid body moved through sustained phrasing. Yuri Possokhov has been a commanding figure in the San Francisco troupe for years. His performance in “Dances” brought a depth of feeling that made the ballet as moving as when the choreographer created it.
Both dancers were unforgettable in the Robbins work, but many others also captured its evanescent mood, especially Julie Diana, Lorena Feijoo, Gonzalo Garcia and Vadim Solomakha.
The California company also offered a highlight of another kind: the most promising newcomer to be seen here in ages. When the company danced George Balanchine’s “Ballo della Regina,” a young soloist, Sarah Van Patten, shot across the stage with an airy jump and headlong abandon that were electrifying. Add to that a refined classical technique, and the budding dancer seems destined for a major career.
Close to home, another young ballerina on the rise, the Washington Ballet’s Michelle Jimenez, scored a triumph this month in the company’s “Nutcracker.” Her delectable dancing and radiant stage presence have never been so well-deployed and made her the very essence of a Sugar Plum Fairy.
Earlier in the year, Miss Jimenez’s talent was recognized with a Princess Grace award.
Her cavalier, Runqiao Du, a longtime member of the Washington Ballet, also has been a member of the Suzanne Farrell Ballet, and the experience has added new authority to his handsome dancing.
The Farrell Ballet offered another of the year’s highlights with performances by Peter Boal of the New York City Ballet and Chan Hon Goh of the National Ballet of Canada in Balanchine’s “Raymonda Variations” and “Chaconne.” Mr. Boal’s noble and electric dancing is a wonder.
One of the grandest companies in the world, the Kirov Ballet, began its 10-year series of visits to the Kennedy Center with performances that whetted our appetite for more.
Both in its historic revival of “Sleeping Beauty” a work created for the company in the late 19th century and its daring, highly successful attempt to dance Balanchine in “Jewels” the Kirov showed its impressive strength in depth. Diana Vishneva in the title role of Sleeping Beauty, Danila Korsuntsev as her Prince, Veronika Part as the Lilac Fairy and Svetlana Zakharova in the Diamonds section of “Jewels” gave outstanding performances.
American Ballet Theatre, another of the major international companies here this year, brought a full-length 19th-century ballet, “Le Corsaire,” emblematic of this year’s emphasis on performers. With the silliest of plots, the ballet has dancing as its only excuse for being, and ABT met the challenge handily.
Among the standouts were Nina Ananiashvili, Julio Bocca, Jose Manuel Carreno, Angel Corella and Ethan Stiefel. ABT has probably the most distinguished group of male dancers in the world. In fact, a PBS show scheduled for February features four of them under the come-on title “Born to Be Wild.”
ABT’s most impressive triumph, though, was in Balanchine’s “Symphony in C.” It made the choreography soar. Especially fine were Julie Kent and Miss Ananiashvili (in alternative casts) with Mr. Carreno as an elegant partner.
The Washington Ballet showed great versatility in a program that included Antony Tudor’s “Dark Elegies” and Paul Taylor’s “Esplanade,” capturing the essence of two very different dances.
Another Washington group, CityDance Ensemble, soared high this year with a splendid program at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater in September and a wildly successful appearance in St. Petersburg just two weeks ago.
The troupe, directed by Paul Emerson, is a repertory company that performs works by the most talented of local choreographers. In its repertoire are modern dances by Dana Tai Soon Burgess, whose own company performed a superb program of his works at the Lincoln Theater in October; Kris O’Shee, whose riveting choreography for “Site Visit” was danced with searing concentration by Charon Judy (surely one of the finest performances by a Washington artist this year); and the prolific and talented Vladimir Angelov.
As usual, the dance scene was enriched by foreign companies that brought different aesthetic points of view to our shores. Notable among them were Ballet Preljocaj from Aix-en-Provence, France; the Lyon Opera Ballet in Maguy Marin’s innovative “Cendrillon”; and Companie Kafig, a hip-hop group of French Algerians, also based in Lyon, that brought daring flips, dizzying head spins and startling mechanical movements, brilliantly crafted and staged.
The most disappointing performances probably were from the mighty Bolshoi Ballet (here twice this year) dancing the bombastic choreography of Yuri Grigorovich each time, although Nikolai Tsiskaridze and Anna Antonicheva made strong impressions.
The most disappointing event was what was billed as the annual Washington dance awards, with limp programming and cronyism evident in the selection of winners. The local dance scene deserves better.
The most heartwarming Washington event was the presentation of the “genius” award to Liz Lerman by the MacArthur Foundation. Miss Lerman has a national reputation for her pioneering work bringing dance to people of all ages, ethnic groups and sexual orientations. Her Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, based in Takoma Park, is constantly working and performing with groups all over the country. The company came home in late summer for performances at the University of Maryland, followed by one at the Library of Congress in September.
The year ended with some intriguing bits of dance news hot off the press:
Following the abrupt departure of the Royal Ballet’s Artistic Director Ross Stretton, the company has announced that Monica Mason, a former leading dancer in the company, will assume the post.
The embattled Martha Graham Center, having won a protracted legal battle with the legendary dancer’s putative heir, Ron Protas, has selected three artistic directors to run the company. All are eminently qualified for their jobs, having worked closely with Miss Graham for many years. Therese Capucilli and Christine Dakin will be, in effect, co-directors of the company, while Janet Eilber will be in charge of supervising the production of Miss Graham’s work by other companies.
Mikhail Baryshnikov has disbanded his White Oak Dance Project to concentrate on a new undertaking the creation of the Baryshnikov Center for Dance in New York City. Planned as a place for artists from various disciplines to share ideas, the center is scheduled to open in 2004.
With the way cleared for the New York City Ballet to appear in Washington, following concessions by both the NYCB Orchestra and the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra that make such visits financially possible, Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser is planning for annual visits from the New York company. Coupled with yearly visits by the Kirov Ballet already in the works, plus other annual visits by such troupes as American Ballet Theatre and Dance Theater of Harlem, the prospects for ballet lovers here are getting brighter and brighter.