- The Washington Times - Friday, December 29, 2006

The big news of 2006 is the striking growth of the local dance scene. Beginning with the new millennium and culminating this year, we have witnessed a higher level of choreography, freshly empowered dancers, increased financial support and the arrival of new theaters in which to perform.

It should be noted quickly that dance has always been the stepchild of the arts, underfunded and underrecognized, and that dubious distinction has not gone away.

Nevertheless, the forward thrust of the past six years is impressive. Here, in no particular order, are 10 highlights of the 2006 season.

• The Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage Local Dance Commissioning Project began modestly but importantly six years ago with three choreographers receiving $5,000 stipends and a chance to perform on the Millennium Stage. The stipend has increased, and Kristen Brogden, the program’s administrator, has raised the level of critical support — finding more rehearsal space, arranging private showings for feedback before public performances, augmenting the performances with a weekend at Dance Place and offering connections to designers and lighting staff.

In addition, the Kennedy Center has added one or two local dance performances to its monthly Millennium Stage schedule, which will attract as many as 400 people — both sitting and standing — per show.

• The Washington Ballet has been on a roller coaster, beginning the year embroiled in a bitter labor dispute, followed by the successful conclusion of its first-ever union contract and a healthy new respect for the professionalism of its talented dancers. In spring, the company mounted “Always, No Sometimes,” a vivid work to music of the Beatles by its resident choreographer, Trey McIntyre.

In the fall it danced its first Jerome Robbins ballet, “In the Night,” and a gut-busting Twyla Tharp piece, “In the Upper Room,” concluding the season with Artistic Director Septime Webre’s grandly staged “Nutcracker.”

• Metro DC Dance Awards, off to a shaky start six years ago, has become a much fairer reflection of the treasures of Washington dance. Two of the biggest winners this year were Nejla Yatkin for her beautifully realized “Mata Hari” and Maida Withers, whose ambitious multimedia, multiyear-in-the-making, multicultural “Thresholds Crossed” was a striking collaboration of American and Russian dancers exploring the fables and foibles of their respective countries — a fitting climax to Miss Withers’ 40 years of provocative dance-making.

The awards committee realizes it still has some kinks to sort out, including how to accommodate under its welcoming umbrella such disparate elements as the dozens of modern-dance groups, with budgets only in the thousands, and the two Washington behemoths with their multimillion dollar budgets — the Washington Ballet and the Suzanne Farrell Ballet.

• In the midst of rejoicing, we lost five who immeasurably enriched the dance world. Three were veterans — Doris Jones, a pioneer in providing training in classical ballet to young black dancers; Mary Day, a teacher of international renown, founder of both the Washington School of Ballet and the Washington Ballet; and Erika Thimey, whose dance company and teaching at Howard University and in her own studio was a bedrock of the developing modern-dance scene beginning in the 1940s.

Two died in midcareer: Rebecca Wright, whose untimely demise has left the Washington School of Ballet in a state of suspended animation, and choreographer-dancer Ed Tyler, whose suicide devastated the modern-dance community.

• Dance/Metro DC is a service organization that both reflects and enhances the growing strength of dance here. Project director Johanna Seltzer runs a behind-the-scenes operation, issuing a calendar of dance events every two weeks that attracts dancers as well as the general public to its Web site.

• Dance Place hums all year, but this fall it proved why it has meant so much to so many for the past 30 years.

One weekend brought dramatic solo portraits of black women by Gesel Mason. Others showcased glowing works by the veteran Alvin Mayes, a cerebral series of solos set to Bach suites by the galvanizing Nejla Yatkin, a stunning performance by fast-growing Step Afrika! and director Carla Perlo’s heartfelt tribute to her father.

• Michael Bjerknes, director of American Dance Institute in Rockville, is generously using his splendid facility to give much-needed support to the dance community. He provided rehearsal and performance space to the Washington Ballet dancers in late winter for a benefit performance as their unresolved labor dispute wore on. He carefully chooses promising choreographers to nurture, and he is working with the Kennedy Center to provide needed rehearsal space for its commissioning project.

• Liz Lerman Dance Exchange is marking the 30th anniversary of its probing, innovative way of looking at life through dance, one that garnered Miss Lerman a prestigious MacArthur “genius” award in 2002. Her troupe, in its newly rebuilt home in Takoma Park, celebrated with a gala retrospective program at the Clarice Smith Center that included a witty commissioned piece featuring the full company, the fine University of Maryland student orchestra and a bemused conductor.

• Joy of Motion, also celebrating its 30th anniversary, is a force of nature on the local scene under the direction of Douglas Yeuell, with four studios scattered across town and a distinguished faculty teaching all kinds of ways to move with ballet, hip-hop, flamenco, Pilates and everything in between. It also presents such established dancers as Dana Tai Soon Burgess as well as young choreographers just trying their wings.

JOM is one of the most welcoming venues in town; many promising choreographers not yet ready for the big time have had their first taste of the footlights at its intimate Jack Guidone Theater on upper Wisconsin Avenue.

• This was the year when Fabian Barnes’ efforts to found an important inner-city dance program and mount a classically based black dance company came to fruition, with his soaring new state-of-the-art building on 14th Street in Columbia Heights. Along with that, he has a new performance space across the street — Gala Hispanic Theater — and on his opening program the exuberant “New Second Line” was a metaphor for the high spirits of his Washington Reflections Dance Company. His new digs join a spate of new performance sites that are enriching the area from Thearc in Anacostia to American University’s Greenberg Theater on Wisconsin Avenue.

A raft of shakers and movers have gone unmentioned, from Daniel Burkholder’s improvisations to CityDance Ensemble at Strathmore — but that leaves room for next year’s story.



Click to Read More

Click to Hide