Ayodele Casel + Arturo O’Farrill
Gia Kourlas: When Dance Was Everywhere
Where have I seen dance in 2019? Basically, everywhere: from Broadway to bar basements to parks to proscenium stages, and in films and on television. That has been overwhelming in the best sense. Here, in no particular order, is a selection of what stood out.
The effervescent Casel has been honing her expertise in tap dance since the 1990s. Her collaboration with the pianist and composer O’Farrill at the Joyce Theater was too long in coming — she should have been commissioned years earlier — but it was a spectacular display of technique and heart. Casel danced with the skill and spirit she is known for, but she also paid homage to the female tap dancers who came before her. She’s extraordinary.
With her feline beauty, and the undulating flow and power of her dancing, this self-assured young member of New York City Ballet is just starting out. This fall, she made her debut as the tall girl in George Balanchine’s “Rubies,” and it was a spectacular performance, though hardly a surprise to those who saw her dance in “Scotch Symphony” at the School of American Ballet Workshop performances in 2017. At City Ballet, Nadon is not alone in talent, but she’s an important part of the company’s future.
In Twyla Tharp’s magnificent triple bill at American Ballet Theatre last spring, the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House shook off its cobwebs. Along with “The Brahms-Haydn Variations” — it’s hard to forget Stephanie Williams’ gorgeous arms — and the rousing closer, “In the Upper Room,” the program featured the revival of “Deuce Coupe.” That 1973 work by Tharp, whose mix of classical and modern dance has led it to be considered the first crossover ballet, was resurrected for the current generation, who danced it with daring and aplomb, making it a hit all over again.
A choreographer who shuns press and curtain calls, Michelson — a 2019 MacArthur Fellow — is a different kind of dance artist, whose intellect, imagination and visual sense have been copied over the years but never replicated. As she considers the labor of the art form, from its physicality to its spirituality, her mind doesn’t quit; her excavation of contemporary dance has created a profound body of work examining both its history and its future. In her recent piece for the River to River Festival, “june2019/\” — raw and abrasive yet not without humor — Michelson used her body as a canvas.
This New York City Ballet principal runs on adrenaline, or so it would seem. This year, especially, she pushed herself beyond the classical form to explore the larger world of dance, from musical comedy (she can be funny) to modern dance (where she is beyond daring). A highlight was her spectacular performance in “Night of 100 Solos: A Centennial Event” in honor of the modern master Merce Cunningham. Fiery and focused, she gave it her all — showing how searingly alive Cunningham’s repertory can be even when he is no longer around to see it.
New York City Ballet, the Royal Ballet, the Paul Taylor and Martha Graham companies — where has Tanowitz not made a dance this year? So far, she’s had nine and counting. (Bits and pieces are still going up here and there.) Her playful mining of steps and dance history enriched her works for Graham and Taylor, just as her percussive musicality challenged City Ballet’s dancers and audience — in good ways — with “Bartok Ballet.” But one of her most haunting works took place outdoors: As part of the River to River Festival, she transformed a waterfront park into a mystical field that was brimming with graceful bodies cutting through the fog.
Bruno Beltrão/Grupo de Rua
With its evening-length “Inoah,” choreographed by Beltrão, this contemporary Brazilian hip-hop company presented a spellbinding, fully realized theatrical world in which 10 male dancers, enveloped in near darkness and shadows, melted into the floor, sprang up again and skirted the edge between turbulence and stillness. It was dark for all of the right reasons. It was penetrating. And on a Friday night after a hectic week, it calmed me right down.
In the film “Joker,” the actor tells the story of how Arthur Fleck — abused and mentally ill — becomes a villain through a sinewy, supple, dancing body. When you give yourself over to a physical experience so fully, words aren’t necessary to impart emotion, and that’s what Phoenix proved in his Oscar-worthy performance.
Camille A. Brown
Over the past year, this choreographer’s influence has been felt on dance, theater and opera stages: She has said that she almost sees her “dancers as actors,” and she most likely also sees actors as dancers. From her finely wrought “ink,” the final dance in a trilogy exploring African American identity, to her work on the Metropolitan Opera’s “Porgy and Bess,” the Public Theater’s “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf” and “Choir Boy” on Broadway — for which she was robbed of a Tony — Brown is one of the most expressive, genuine and deeply felt choreographers working today.
Paul Taylor knew what he was doing when he left his modern dance organization in the capable, creative hands of Novak, a dancer who retired from the company this season. The group’s Lincoln Center season, the first led by Novak as artistic director, had a freshness to it, from the dancing onstage to the performers’ headshots. That matters. Everything needed an overhaul, and Novak, who has taste, knew that. He not only cares about modern dance, but he also knows how to keep the memory of Taylor — the strange parts, just as much as the joyful — fully alive.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times .
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