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Best of Dance 2000

Friday, December 29, 2000

By Jane Vranish, Post-Gazette Dance Critic

Throughout the year 2000, there was a cauldron of activity in the dance community. Independent artists like Labco, Gillian Beauchamp and Mary Miller had plenty to say. But "Bolshoi" or "big" was the catch-phrase this year. Well-known choreographers and large productions provided the major excitement and subsequently gained this stamp of approval. Here's the list:

1. "Indigo in Motion"
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, Benedum Center, May 4.

It was a "jazzballet" and a first-rate event of national significance. Given that jazz and ballet usually don't mix, it was enormously satisfying to see PBT hit a the dance equivalent of a home run. Artistic director Terrence Orr selected three top-notch choreographers in Kevin O'Day, Lynne Taylor-Corbett and Dwight Rhoden, under whose guidance the PBT dancers never looked better. Pittsburgh provided the accompaniment with Stanley Turrentine, Ray Brown, Lena Horne, Billy Strayhorn and some fabulous local talent. It was a signature production for PBT.

2. Bill T. Jones/ Arnie Zane Company
Pittsburgh Dance Council, Benedum Center, Oct. 7.

On paper "You Walk?" looked like a dry collection of obscure Latin-Mediterranean topics. On stage it was a revelation. Jones took a topic of enormous range, from African chants to South American opera, Texan prison work songs and, of all things, contemporary composer John Cage. He presented it all with uncommon clarity and resourcefulness. The intelligent weave of the production design was staggering with Robert Wierzel's lighting, Bjorn Amelan's elegant sliding screens and Paul Kaiser's creative digital projections.

3. Paul Taylor Company
PDC, Benedum Center, April 1.

Yet another deceptively simple program by one of America's choreographic masters. This time Taylor tackled the tango, a sultry, physical affair between dance, music and dancers called "Piazzolla Caldera." It was also good to see a repeat of his bittersweet soldier's tale, "Sunset," along with "Cascade," a baroque romp.

4. Carlota Santana Dance Company
International Poetry Forum, Carnegie Music Hall, Oct. 11.

"Mano a Mano" was a world premiere for Samuel Hazo's Forum, and a flamboyant and tantalizing dip into the world of flamenco. Choreographer Antonio Hidalgo came up with a dramatic biography of Spanish bullfighting legend Manolete. There was nothing smoldering about this production. The dancers were on fire, exhibiting a new, bold trend in flamenco.

5. White Oak Dance Project
PDC, Byham Theater, Nov. 7.

Many thought that this program was akin to watching grass grow. But Mikhail Baryshnikov took a seminal art movement, the Judson Dance Theater from the '70s, and packaged it into an educational and highly informative program for the '90s. We saw works by Yvonne Rainer, David Gordon, Lucinda Childs and other original creators that would otherwise have been lost. We also saw how subsequent dances have been enormously influenced by it. Better yet, it kept Baryshnikov interested and dancing, for which we are grateful.

6. "The Jazz Nutcracker"
Playhouse Dance Company, Pittsburgh Playhouse, Dec. 7.

You would never think that these were college students nimbly negotiating ancient dance history like swing, bebop and vaudeville (except for the original Uncle Drosselmeyer and hip choreographer, Douglas Bentz). This was a polished and improved "Jazz Nut," also upgraded by a live collaboration with Benny Benack's band.

7. Martha Graham Dance Company
PDC, Benedum Center, Jan. 29.

A bit academic, but nonetheless intriguing, the Graham company did for Martha what Mischa did for Judson. Most fascinating were the early reconstructions, "Satyric Festival Song" and "Deep Song." Susan Stroman's new piece, "But Not For Me," was disappointing. But the dancers were still glorious.

8. Dance Alloy
(March 17)

The Alloy went wildly operatic with a virtuoso duet from Michele de la Reza and Peter Kope in "Bodice Ripper." Artistic director Mark Taylor contributed a lovely premiere, "Nevertheless," with a Balkan slant and unzipped his dancers in "Xanadu."

9. "Cleopatra"
PBT, Oct. 26.

The second of two PBT premieres, we found that Ben Stevenson's choreography was skillful, but greatly enhanced by Thomas Boyd's expert scenic design and Judith Lynn's glittering costumes. Best of all, it was a perfect vehicle for ballerina Ying Li, who slithered through the title role with a sultry aplomb.

10. Stephen Petronio Company
PDC, Dec. 2.

A whirlwind of dance called "Strange Attractors" from a young New York choreographer. Based on a scientific premise of magnetic particles in seemingly random motion, it ultimately proved to be far from the "everything but the kitchen sink" variety because Petronio's movement had good bones underneath the funky framework.

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