For most of us, September is the true start of the year, but why not take advantage of the official first month of 2006 to bid farewell to 2005? In no particular order, here are twenty events from the previous year that made covering dance worthwhile. Regretfully, I couldn't attend all the performances I would have liked to have seen, but thankfully, I saw more than enough good dance.
1) The annual Gala des Étoiles. It's a star-packed extravaganza I look forward to each and every year if only because it is one of the few times I actually get to see some ballet in Montreal. Happily, several of my favorite dancers were back, but the sensation of the evening was seventeen year-old Daniil Simkin with his boundless jumps and easy turns.
2) L'Agora de la Danse. This space hosted some solid shows, especially this past fall. Most memorable was Estelle Clareton's Furies Alpha 1/24: its premiere haunted me so much that I was compelled to go back for a second performance during a busy time in the fall season when time is sorely limited. Other commendable performances at the Agora included José Navas's austere yet emotionally charged Portable Dances and Danièle Desnoyer's witty Play It Again!
3) Tangente's Silver Anniversary. Dance presenter Tangente has been bringing to Montreal audiences the unfamiliar and undiscovered in choreography for twenty-five years now. That's something to cheer. In 2005, the annual Danse buissonnière,a showcase of young talent, stands out not only because none of the eight works made me wince but also because three of them showed choreographic promise. Most compelling was the current "It Girl" of Montreal's contemporary dance scene, Dana Michel, in her solo "critical path method."
4) Nicolas Cantin and Christiane Bourget. Cantin's riveting self-choreographed solo "Glass*house-Fantaisie baroque" was also on Tangente's Danse buissonnière program but I first saw this remarkable dancer at Studio 303 last February in Christiane Bourget's "Jachére," which later deservedly earned kudos at the 2005 fFIDA dance fest in Toronto. In both "Jachére" and "Glass*house," Cantin is confined in tightly constricted spaces and his movement is as minimal as you would find in Butoh and is similarly transfixing.
5) National Ballet of Canada, Part I. I am happy to report that although James Kudleka stepped down last year from the artistic directorship of National Ballet of Canada, he didn't do so before giving us his first all-original comic ballet, An Italian Straw Hat. The ballet boasts Santo Loquasto's exuberant black and white sets and costumes that rival those of Cecil Beaton's for the Ascot Races scene in the film My Fair Lady. While the ballet wasn't a slam-dunk-it's based on a very complicated plot-Kudelka still provided excellent ballet choreography and plenty of outrageously funny moments.
6) National Ballet of Canada, Part II. Rest assured (if somehow you haven't heard), Kudelka will still be around the National as its Resident Choreographer, and his more than worthy replacement as AD is Canada's first star ballerina and national icon, the great Karen Kain. Yes, yes, yes! Classical ballet will continue onward and upward at Canada's premiere ballet company.
7) Paul André Fortier's Lumière. Fortier's spring offering delighted me for the simple reason that his multi-generational dancers (including Fortier himself) actually seemed to be enjoying themselves moving through his exemplary choreography throughout both the performances I attended.
8) Les Grands Ballets Canadiens. The company's Les Noces/TooT program, with choreography by Stijn Celis and Didy Veldman respectively, is one of the most winning shows Les Grands has put on since I've been watching the troupe, and its performances of the program at Jacob's Pillow this past summer earned lots of praise from several US critics.
9) Mariko Kida, demi-soloist of Les Grands Ballets Canadiens. I was happy to be asked to include the tiny, winsome Kida in Dance Magazine's "25 To Watch" for 2006 and for good reason. Last season, her first with Les Grands, Kida wowed Montrealers like me who were lucky to see her as the heroine of Jean-Christophe Maillot's Romeo and Juliet. Whatever she performs, Kida's exquisite carriage and demeanor as well as her lovely technique shine. Her assured and charming performance as the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker was a highlight of my holiday season.
10) Compagnie Marie Chouinard. Last spring this excellent troupe performed Chouinard's Chorale and 24 Preludes by Chopin. Chorale may be Chouinard lite, but I enjoyed every pant and undulating torso; as for Preludes, it is a work built to last.
INTERVIEWS TO REMEMBER
11) The legendary Chouinard herself. Interviewing her for Dance Magazine was about one of the most pleasing assignments I've done. It's hard to choose what was more thrilling: Chouinard speaking eloquently and with a sense of fun about her work or the sight of this magnetic woman demonstrating her choreography, a special treat given I never had the chance to see her dance during her performing days.
12) Victor Quijada, AD, founder and dancer of Rubberbandance Group. Quijada is a passionate spokesperson for dance and a talented choreographer who blends contemporary dance, break dance and ballet ever so seamlessly.
13) Patricia Barker, prima ballerina of Seattle's Pacific Northwest Ballet. One of my great regrets in my dance life is not having the opportunity to watch this glorious dancer on a regular basis. Barker first came to my attention back in the Eighties in the film version of PNB's Nutcracker (with marvelous designs by illustrator Maurice Sendak of Where the Wild Things Are fame). Those incomparable S curved legs and feet, regal bearing and rock-solid technique made me hungry for more. Sigh. Oddly, moving to Montreal turned out to be most fortunate because Barker has graced the Gala des Étoiles since 1999. Check out my interview with one of America's most perfect ballerinas past or present.
14) Vincent Warren, Andrea Boardman and Geneviève Guérard, past and present Les Grands Ballets Canadiens principal dancers. While I didn't formally interview them, each graciously met with me to discuss my write-ups on their careers for Bibliothèque de la Danse's forthcoming online encyclopedia on Quebec dance. I enjoyed learning more about their remarkable dancing days and importance to Montreal dance.
15) The 2005 CORD International Conference on Dance and Human Rights, Montreal. For this incredibly consciousness-raising four-day event held last November, CORD (Congress on Research in Dance) devoted over sixty panels, workshops and performances to explore how dance can serve the cause of human rights worldwide as well as examined rights issues that (sadly) exist within the dance community itself. See my forthcoming articles on the conference in Dance International (February) and Dance Magazine (March).
16) The first ever U.S. National Critics Conference, Los Angeles. Imagine over 400 art, theatre, jazz, classical music and dance critics all coming together to swap war stories about poor pay, restrictive word counts, and getting readers, editors and publishers to pay a few moments of attention to the arts. So many opinionated people in one room may sound nightmarish, but actually it was a fantastic learning experience. The biggest joy for me was meeting dance critics I had read as a dance student.
Unexpected Delights of the Year
17) Lincoln Kirstein and Venice. I must also mention my trip last March to Venice, Italy where I retraced the footsteps of my hero Kirstein, co-founder of the New York City Ballet, who, during his 1929 visit to the city, unwittingly stumbled upon the funeral of the Ballets Russes' Serge Diaghilev. How amazing to see beautiful Venice a bit through his eyes and what a joy to write about such a metaphorically potent moment in dance history. (Thanks, George, for inviting me to share in your Venetian birthday celebration!)
18) A Daughter and Dance. 2005 will always be memorable since it was the year I first took my daughter Vivienne to performances: The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker, courtesy of Ballet Ouest. I also treasure the many delightful evenings we spent together munching on popcorn and watching Gene Kelly movies. For sure, of all my dance articles, none have been so fulfilling to write as those about Vivie and dance.
19) Dance Magazine. Getting published in this magazine for the first time was a significant, if admittedly sentimental, moment: DM was the very first mag I ever subscribed to back when I was a twelve year-old aspiring dancer. When I quit dancing, I never thought I would have much to do with the field beyond that as a spectator. I feel as if I have come full circle.
It Takes a Village
20) The Montreal dance community and dance folks beyond. Certainly, dancers and choreographers deserve the spotlight but to get them there I couldn't do so without the help of editors, directors, librarians, historians, fellow critics and others. A tip of the hat with gratitude to those who in 2005 gave me opportunities and shared their knowledge and expertise: Vincent Warren and Marie-Josée Lecours (Bibliothèque de la Danse), Philip Szporer (The Hour), Victor Swoboda (The Gazette), Victor Melnikoff (Gala des Étoiles), Dena Davida (Tangente), Naomi M. Jackson (CORD), Mindy Aloff (Barnard College), Allan Ulrich and Wendy Perron (Dance Magazine), Maureen Riches (Dance International), Peter MacFarlane (Festival des Arts de Saint-Sauveur), Phillip Todd (Maisonneuve) and everyone at the Dance Critics Association.