- The Washington Times - Friday, December 30, 2005

Dance in Washington has been attracting national attention this year — some of it favorable, some decidedly not.

To begin with the bad news, the disarray caused by the Washington Ballet’s labor troubles — still unresolved — led to the cancellation of roughly half its performances of “The Nutcracker” this holiday season, disappointing families who planned to see the show and some 250 students at the Washington School of Ballet who were slated to perform.

(At Montgomery College in Rockville, a charming, gentler version of “The Nutcracker” choreographed by Michelle Lees for the Maryland Youth Ballet held young audiences spellbound with its homey flavor and fresh performances by well-trained student dancers.)

On the plus side, attention focused on the ascendancy of Suzanne Farrell as a major player on the Washington dance scene. The legendary ballerina brought her eponymous company here twice this year: in an ambitious restaging in spring of the full-length “Don Quixote” that George Balanchine had created for her in 1965 and this fall with a splendidly chosen program of four Balanchine one-act ballets.

Miss Farrell also was a Kennedy Center Honoree earlier this month. At the celebration of the Honorees, her finely tuned company gave a lilting performance at breakneck speed of the Mozart-Balanchine “Divertimento No. 15.” Her staging was filmed and aired nationally four days ago during CBS’ Honors broadcast.

Dance on a grand scale was emphasized throughout the center’s ballet series, leading off with the Kirov Ballet’s idiosyncratic “Cinderella” and followed later by a sumptuous “La Bayadere.”

American Ballet Theatre appeared for two weeks with “Swan Lake” and a program of works by Michael Fokine. The company’s staging of Mr. Fokine’s “Petrouchka” was a triumph.

Soulful ballerina Amanda McKerrow, who first bloomed here in her teens as Mary Day’s student at the Washington School of Ballet, played against type in the role of the saucy Ballerina in “Petrouchka” and before her retirement gave a final Washington performance of “Giselle,” the ultimate romantic ballet she always has danced with special grace.

It fell to the New York City Ballet to bring a shot of modernism with performances of great Balanchine works —”Four Temperaments,” “Theme and Variations,” “Stars and Stripes” — and Jerome Robbins’ “I’m Old Fashioned” and “Glass Pieces.”

Even with these works by giants in the field, a ballet by the imaginative Christopher Wheeldon, “Polyphonia,” proved to be one of the most striking ballets seen here this year.

A youthful work by Mr. Wheeldon, “There Where She Loved,” also appeared on a Washington Ballet program, further illuminating the scope of his talent. That evening included Mr. Balanchine’s haunting “Violin Concerto” and Trey McIntyre’s over-the-top “Rite of Spring.”

Another “Rite of Spring” turned up in the fall, and the contrast could not have been more stark. Shen Wei, a quiet artist of immense power and imagination, dug deep into Igor Stravinsky’s score and created a whole world of meaning. “Rite,” together with the other work on his program, “Folding,” made for the most luminous evening at the Kennedy Center all year.

The center had a very good year all around, with two splendid festivals: a celebration of African-American dance and its huge-scale Festival of China.

Elsewhere, there were a host of compelling performances: a welcome yearly visit by the marvelous Mark Morris Dance Group; an eye-opening one by Rennie Harris at George Mason University; and a riveting performance by the Bebe Miller Company at the Clarice Smith Center at the University of Maryland.

CityDance Ensemble helped inaugurate the new Strathmore Arts Center with a nifty program well chosen for that challenging space; the phenomenal Savion Glover brought his explosive hoofing to the same venue; and in “Mata Hari” at Dance Place, Nejla Y. Yatkin evoked the World War I spy in one of the most theatrically ambitious, vivid solo works to come out of the Washington dance scene.

Behind the scenes, there’s a heartening escalation of support for dance even in these lean times. The Washington Performing Arts Society’s generous commissioning of new works has led to two excellent projects: Ed Tyler’s mesmerizing theater piece “Sanctuary” at the newly refurbished Tivoli Theatre, and Washington Reflections Dance Company’s first sponsored outing at the Lincoln Theatre.

Scarcely less important is Michael Bjerknes’ generous nurturing of select artists with offers of rehearsal space at his soaring American Dance Institute in Rockville.

Future dancers and future audiences also are being developed with new classes at the Arc in Anacostia; at Joy of Motion’s new location near Union Station; at CityDance classes at Strathmore; and at a new home for Fabian Barnes’ Dance Institute of Washington, being constructed on the reinvigorated 14th Street Northwest corridor.

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