Thursday, September 11, 2008

Led by the Kennedy Center, dance offerings this coming season bid to be the most bountiful and bodacious in memory. Especially in the area of modern dance, the lineup is awesome.

For dance lovers, the season offers almost an embarrassment of riches.

For those who want to know more about modern dance and what all the fuss is about, this is a rare opportunity to see the great movers and shakers and exciting newcomers in this fertile field. The Kennedy Center has outdone itself in bringing an unprecedented survey of modern dance, its historic figures and some of its exciting newcomers.

Added to that, ballet-goers can see seven of the great world companies performing here for a week each.

Following the pattern of other years, most dance is scheduled for winter-spring 2009, but there are standouts in the fall season as well.

The Martha Graham Dance Company, formed by the mother of modern dance, will be at the center’s Eisenhower Theater Dec. 9 and 10 in the stunning, full-length “Clytemnestra,” her dramatic account of the Greek tale by Aeschylus. This is a rare opportunity to see what many consider her masterpiece, a heart-clutching tale of desire and revenge presented with Isamu Noguchi’s striking sets, the center’s Opera House Orchestra and Miss Graham´s vivid theatricality.

An early member of Miss Graham’s company was Merce Cunningham, whose company follows on Dec. 12 and 13. A good example of how wide-ranging modern dance can be, he is cool and abstract where Miss Graham’s work is passionate and intense. Mr. Cunningham has spawned a generation of choreographers who have responded to his playful way of setting up head games, such as only bringing music and dance together the night of performance. He collaborated fruitfully with avant-garde artists, including John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns.

Modern dance has long since jumped across oceans and continents, inspiring choreographers who enrich it with their own ethnic roots. Three of the most eloquent have settled in the United States and are among the most original artists on the scene.

Eiko and Koma appear at Dance Place Sept. 20 and 21. Shen Wei, whom the Kennedy Center named as its artist-in-residence three years ago, will be at the Eisenhower Theater Oct. 29 and 30. The Japanese-born Eiko and Koma, and Shen Wei, who was a painter and performed in Chinese opera before coming here, all have a distilled elegance in their work but have chosen different paths. Eiko and Koma are miniaturists and usually appear alone; Shen Wei has a group of dancers and works on a larger scale.

Another group with different roots is Bangarra Dance Theatre from Australia, appearing at the Eisenhower Theater Oct. 16 and 17 in “Awakenings,” springing from the Aboriginal experience.

The Washington Ballet’s program “Genius!” brings Twyla Tharp’s “Baker’s Dozen,” Mark Morris’ “Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes” and Christopher Wheeldon’s “Morphoses” to the Harman Center for the Arts Oct. 22 through 26.

Trey McIntyre, known to Washington audiences by his strong works for the Washington Ballet, has formed his own touring company, which appears at the Harman Center Nov. 5.

On Saturday, the Kennedy Center’s annual Open House Arts Festival, a rousing way for families to sample the arts for free, will feature Step Afrika, a vibrant local group, in the Concert Hall.

The center’s own company, the Suzanne Farrell Ballet, led by the legendary ballerina, appears at the newly renovated Eisenhower Theater Oct. 8 through 12, dancing two provocative programs of Balanchine works: the sublime “Liebeslieder Walzer” and “The Balanchine Couple,” a revealing look at the infinite variety the celebrated choreographer brought to the pas de deux.

Coming up in 2009 are so many dance goodies that picking and choosing will be difficult.

First among equals, the New York City Ballet arrives March 4 through 8 with three spectacular programs, including major Balanchine works: “Vienna Waltzes,” “Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet,” “Chaconne,” and “Symphony in Three Movements.”

Continuing the ballet options are the Kirov Ballet - returning to its original name, the Mariinsky Ballet - with a week of “Don Quixote” Jan. 13 through 18; American Ballet Theatre with a mixed program Feb. 17 through 19 and “Swan Lake” Feb. 20 through 22; the Bolshoi Ballet with “Le Corsaire” June 16 through 21; England’s Royal Ballet with a mixed program that includes Frederick Ashton’s delicious “A Month in the Country” June 23 and 24 and Kenneth MacMillan’s full-length “Manon” June 25 through 28.

The modern-dance card for 2009 is equally full. At the Kennedy Center, the Limon Dance Company will perform the great dancer-choreographer Jose Limon’s stirring “The Traitor” and “Suite From a Choreographic Offering” Jan. 16 and 17; the Mark Morris Dance Group appears in Mr. Morris’ widely acclaimed “Mozart Dances” Jan. 19 through 21; the popular Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater celebrates its 50th anniversary Feb. 3 through 8; Bill T. Jones-Arnie Zane Dance Company marks its 25th anniversary with “A Quarreling Pair” March 24 and 25; and the magnificent Paul Taylor Dance Company appears March 27 and 28.

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