DCMetroTheaterArts’ Best of 2014: Dance by Carolyn Kelemen and Rick Westerkamp

The Best Dance of 2014: Let’s hear it for the boys and other memories of sexy dancers

This was the year for lust, passion, and flesh. Septime Webre has a gift for creating titillating works (or finding other choreographers) to showcase his company’s gorgeous bodies. Masterworks by Kylian/van Manen/Wheeldon at Sidney Harman Hall in October proved once again that The Washington Ballet is a company to savor. In 5 Tangos, what could be more dramatic than watching two lovers posed on stage, their bodies entwined, their eyes riveted on each other? Perhaps it’s this rare feeling of a genuine emotional encounter between Sona Kharatian and Jonathan Jordan or Brooklyn Mack and Aurora Dickie that best explains the show’s success.

P.S. Sona danced a sultry Arabian variation with handsome Hungarian Tamas Krizsa in TWB Nutcracker at the Warner Theater just a few days ago.

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Paunchy men in tight-fitting polyester suits twirled zaftig women in slit-up-to-the-thigh skirts in a tango program at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage this past fall. Filled with passion and precisely timed movement, PASO surprised everyone as one of the sexiest shows in town. Let’s hope there’s an encore performance with the grand master of “nuevo tango.”

Alessandra Ferri and Herman Cornejo in Martha Clarke’s ‘Chéri.’ Photo by Joan Marcus.
Alessandra Ferri and Herman Cornejo in Martha Clarke’s ‘Chéri.’ Photo by Joan Marcus.

Likewise, dancer/choreographer Martha Clarke showed off leggy limbs in Cheri, adapted from Colette’s infamous 1920 novella. We saw it first at Manhattan’s Signature Theater, then caught it again at The Kennedy Center. Both shows proved that Clarke has a gift for theatrical dance and a penchant for finding sexy dancers to fill the roles. Clarke’s petite histoire of forbidden love between a young man and an older woman, features American Ballet Theater Principal Herman Cornejo (the petulant boy-toy) and prima ballerina Alessandra Ferri as his older, but equally passion
ate partner.

Mark Morris will go to any length to prove his point of view, often with a hint of gender-bender choreography. At two performances this past year – one at his company’s Brooklyn Academy of Music, the other at second home George Mason University this past winter season – his acclaimed ensemble has been equally popular with dance aficionados, mainstream audiences, and critics alike. Whether it’s his Italian Concerto to Bach’s music or the recent DC area premiere of A Wooden Tree to Scottish tunes, Morris is truly gifted in musical visualization, an art that George Balanchine initiated.

Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company performs 'Sadeh21.' Photo by Gadi Dagan.
Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company performs ‘Sadeh21.’ Photo by Gadi Dagan.

Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company presented handsome, hairy-chested hunks to show that modern ballet could absorb masculine athleticism. Under the direction of Ohad Naharin, known for wildly imaginative works that excite the audience, the premiere of Sadeh 21, was a celebration of his eclectic artistic vision and a showcase for these young, fearless dancers, both male and female.

Svetlana Zakharova (Giselle) and David Hallberg (Albrecht). Photo by E. Fetisova.
Svetlana Zakharova (Giselle) and David Hallberg (Albrecht). Photo by E. Fetisova.

Cavalier and partner extraordinaire, David Hallberg traveled back and forth from Manhattan to Moscow, the first American to become a principal dancer with the Bolshoi Ballet. He was dashing in the Russian production of Giselle last May at The Kennnedy Center’s Opera House; can’t wait until he returns in February to celebrate American Ballet Theater’s 75th Anniversary.

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On the other hand, there were many moments for more demure ballerinas. Patricia McBride received this year’s Kennedy Center Honors, well deserved and long overdue. Dancers from all genres came to pay tribute to this New York City Ballet legend and muse of the great “Mr. B.” You can see her sitting next to the President when the program was aired last night on CBS.

Carmine de Lavalade-"The Creation", (1972)
Carmine de Lavalade-“The Creation”, (1972)

Carmine de Lavalade shared her stories of dancing in movies, on stage, and with some of the most wonderful dancing men in the business at a special performance in DC. She can chase away winter blahs with just one swirl of her red satin cape, designed, of course, by her late husband, Geoffrey Holder. Please come back for some more tales.

Meredith Monk. Photo courtesy of Jewish Currents.
Meredith Monk. Photo courtesy of Jewish Currents.

A Special Award:

At 72, Meredith Monk has been proclaimed both a “magician of the voice” and “one of America’ coolest composers.” Monk has long been known as a “choreographer” but in later years more as a “composer.” For me, though, she represents pure modern dance. Last May., the premiere of On Behalf of Nature at the University of Maryland’s Clarice Center for the Arts was mesmerizing, and I became a fan. This Special Award is for that wonderful evening at The Clarice and to honor Meredith Monk’s career.

Kudos to the folks who have brought big ballet to local movie houses. Classical ballets like Sleeping Beauty, grand operas that feature dancing, drum corps celebrations, and long-forgotten films with extraordinary dancers, among them Singing In The Rain – thanks for the memories.

Broadway theater, too, is reeling with dance this season. Don’t miss On The Town with guys who would give Gene Kelly some stiff competition. Newsies just closed in Baltimore and folks are still talking about those fabulous tap dancers; Little Dancer, hopefully, will be heading to The Great White Way with Tyler Peck, all pretty in pink.

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Here are Rick Westerkamp’s Best of 2014 Dance Honors:

Favorite Ballet Performance:

‘Theme and Variations’ with Maki Onuki. Photo by Paul Wegner.
‘Theme and Variations’ with Maki Onuki. Photo by Paul Wegner.

The Washington Ballet’s performance of Balanchine’s “Theme and Variations” in Tour-de-Force: Balanchine at The Kennedy Center 

 Favorite Non-Ballet Dance Performance or Recital:

From ‘The Garden.’ Photo by Yi Zhao.
From ‘The Garden.’ Photo by Yi Zhao.

Nichole Canuso Dance Company’s performance of The Garden at NextNOW Fest at The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center

Best Performance by Dance Group or Company:

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Pleated, MFA Thesis Concert by Stephanie Miracle at The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center

Best Performance by a Non-Ballet Dancer:

‘Groove.’ Photo by ZZ Handler.
‘Groove.’ Photo by ZZ Handler.

The cast of Stephanie Miracle’s Groove in NextDANCE at NextNOW Fest at The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center

Best Dance Venue:

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The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center