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2011 year in review: Best in dance

December 14, 2011 |  3:11 pm

Benjamin Millepied
Two significant events reverberated in 2011 for Los Angeles dance, book ends to the touring companies that annually blow in and out of town.

In January, 12 dance groups were invited to compete on “The A.W.A.R.D. Show!”, a reality-TV style co-production of the Joyce Theater Foundation and REDCAT, Cal Art’s downtown performance and arts center. Choreographer Barak Marshall won the $10,000 prize, but all the participants surely benefited from the recognition and audience exposure that being at REDCAT confers.

Then last month, the formation of L.A. Dance Project was announced, a new “arts collective” founded by choreographer and dancer Benjamin Millepied, with backing from the Music Center.

In both these instances, powerful institutions reached out to sustain or create local infrastructure. Both have potential to be exciting developments, particularly if they have long-lasting impact. This kind of support is vital, and has been notably absent for decades. Will it continue? Stay tuned in 2012.

Oh, and about those touring companies…it was a year of superlative performances, from established powerhouses and groups making debut engagements. These were personal favorites, with photos of each:

Nederlands Dans Theater By now, we know the sleek style and bravura dancers of Nederlands Dans Theater. Yet, NDT always surprises and inspires wonder, even when individual works are flawed. The two pieces presented in March at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion had differing appeal. “Silent Screen,” by collaborators Sol León and Paul Lightfoot, had a dream-like narrative of a complicated, troubled relationship. Crystal Pite’s “The Second Person” contrasted militaristic, unison dancing with wild, athletic solos – and one strange puppet. A stage filled with NDT dancers is a performance to remember. (Photo credit: Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times)

L'Allegro
Celebrating its 30th anniversary, Mark Morris Dance Group revived his two-act masterwork, “L’Allegro, Il Penseroso, ed il Moderato.” Last seen in 1997 at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, “L’Allegro” is both classic and innovative, and was better-suited, somehow, to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (presented in May by the Music Center in collaboration with LA Opera, which supplied conductor Grant Gershon, the soloists, orchestra and chorus). Morris’ adaptation of Handel’s oratorio brimmed with life, color, powerful patterns and a joyous humanity. (Photo credit: Liz O. Baylen/Los Angeles Times)

Napoli
Royal Danish Ballet remains among classical dance’s elite. The company was back at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in May with Nikolaj Hübbe in charge. The two programs reflected Hübbe’s embrace of August Bournonville’s refined 19th century vision, and his drive to be up-to-date. That translated into a repertory program of provocative ballets, and a new version of the beloved “Napoli” set in the 1950s. Despite some misfires, the clarity and buoyancy of Danish dancing made for something splendid. (Photo: Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times)

Miguel Gutierrez

Miguel Gutierrez, a New York based dance and music artist, enjoys being both inventive and profane. His local solo debut in July, at the Alexandria Hotel (co-presented by Show Box LA and Blankenship Ballet), promised to be a step apart, and it was. “Heavens What Have I Done” was slyly subversive, chopping through boundaries between artist and audience and aiming for truths about love. Gutierrez transformed himself into an opera diva with white makeup and bouffant wig. He propelled himself around the Palm Court Ballroom with abandon, a fearless artist. (Photo credit: Ian W. Douglas))

Babel
In the theater-dance piece “Babel,” Belgian choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Damien Jalet captured the frustrations and hilarity of our mixed up, not-so-small planet. Their new company, called Eastman (presented in October by the Irvine Barclay Theatre), featured a superb, multi-national group of dancers, actors and musicians. They enacted mini-dramas of hope and misunderstanding, looking for life’s meanings in a world where even if we speak the same language, we don’t understand one another. The amazing set, designed by visual artist Antony Gormley, was assembled into numerous configurations, like a sleek, giant Erector Set. This dramatic comedy was that rare double threat -- both amazing and touching. (Photo credit: Eastman)

RELATED:

More year-end picks from the Los Angeles Times art critics

Dancing Stephen Colbert goes toe to toe with David Hallberg

Benjamin Millepied and Music Center announce L.A. Dance Project

-- Laura Bleiberg

Top photo: Benjamin Millepied. Credit: Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times

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