- The Washington Times - Friday, December 26, 2008

With so much to see, I may well have missed some new or important events. So here are the top 10 dancers and performances from one dance lover’s experience.

1. Best male performance - Nikolaj Hubbe, the great Danish dancer with the New York City Ballet gave a farewell performance in New York that included George Balanchine’s “Apollo.” I have seen leading male dancers of the world - Erik Bruhn, Rudolf Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov - dance the role, but Mr. Hubbe brought an immediacy and electricity that was unmatched. It was as if he were creating his movements on the spot - they burst right out of him. Once in a blue moon comes a performance that is imprinted on the retina forever, and this was one. Mr. Hubbe left to become director of the Royal Danish Ballet: our loss, that troupe’s gain.

2. Best local male dancer - The Washington Ballet’s Jonathan Jordan has grown from a dancer of uncommon purity to a powerhouse who blazes across the stage, whether in Mark Morris’ saucy “Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes” or as the swashbuckling frontiersman in Septime Webre’s “The Nutcracker.”

3. Best rising female dancers -Jade Payette and Sona Kharatian, two women in the Washington Ballet who are a study in contrasts. Miss Payette is a natural extrovert, taking to the stage like a duck - or rather a swan - to water. Miss Kharatian is a more private person; her rise to beautifully self-confident ballerina has been a joy to watch.

4. Best revival of an important ballet - Suzanne Farrell’s restaging of “Liebeslieder Walzer” for her eponymous company in a work for four couples set to Johannes Brahms’ impassioned score. Miss Farrell brings new insights to what many people think is Mr. Balanchine’s ultimate tribute to romantic love, with all its nuances, tensions and splendor.

5. Most important revival of a modern dance - Martha Graham’s full-length “Clytemnestra,” a towering achievement by one of the giants of 20th-century dance. Her company has given it a sensitive, thrilling reconstruction.

6. Most significant loss - Michael Bjerknes’ untimely death. His American Dance Institute, located in Rockville, has enriched the dance community with the high level of its teaching; its generous, crucial support to local artists; and its success in bringing fine groups such as Taylor 2 and American Ballet Theatre II to its concert series. His wife continues the good work he began.

7. Best new work - Christopher Wheeldon’s “Within the Golden Hour,” danced here by the San Francisco Ballet in November, showcased the choreographer’s masterful way of creating mood through gorgeous, soaring movement.

8. Most important dance festival - Michael M. Kaiser, now the leader in creating international arts festivals, brought an ambitious program to the Kennedy Center in June with a generous series of programs that included three performances of “Proteges II,” an International Ballet Academy Festival that began with three performances by the schools of the Bolshoi Ballet, the Paris Opera Ballet, the Royal Ballet and the New York City Ballet’s School of American Ballet. These high-level students were followed by Ballet Across America, an unprecedented event showcasing nine American companies: three from the Midwest, three from the West Coast and three from the East. It even thoughtfully saw to it that some fine, small local groups got billing, too, ending with four companies that appeared on the Millennium Stage - Bosma Dance, Coyaba Dance Theater, Jazzdanz/dc and Silk Road Dance Company.

9. Most engrossing look at another culture - Butoh, a spare, ritualistic Japanese-inspired dance movement, is the foundation of Sankai Juku. The group of men with shaved heads and almost-bare bodies covered with white Kabuki-like makeup distill movements down to images of life and death with vivid, baroque grandeur. It’s another mesmerizing world.

10. Most improved Nutcracker - Mr. Webre’s big, rambunctious, eye-filling “Nutcracker” is looking stronger than ever this season. The sets are magnificent, and the whole production has a Broadway-quality snap with hundreds of little folk drilled to a fare-thee-well and masquerading as toadstools, skittering mice and tumbling clowns.

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