Our world of dance reached backward dutifully during 2013, but with just as much vigor, pushed forward, instructing us on the one hand how milestones in the art should be honored, and on the other, helped to stretch our imaginations in discovering intriguing possibilities in movement.
The year 1913, of course, was very much in mind in the world's halls of dance as impresarios, choreographers and dancers marked the convulsive premiere a century ago in Paris of the Stravinsky/Nijinsky "Sacre du printemps" collaboration.
The contemporary atmosphere in our environs, clearly more restrained than the restive debut audience, tendered a solid rendition of "The Rite of Spring," as we commonly know it, along with an imaginative extension of the piece, and at least one puzzling effort as well.
The Martha Graham Dance Company, closing out Jacob's Pillow's 81st season with a restaging of the classic that proved both bracing and faithful to the legend, honored "Sacre" with the basic elements and tensions that Stravinsky seemed to have in mind at the outset.
Offering fresh new dances,
such as Nacho Duato's remarkable declamation on torture, "Rust," the company appears securely poised for years to come under the artistic direction of Janet Elber, an astute alumna of the troupe.
The most unusual expression of Stravinsky's score emerged in a collaboration of Bill T. Jones, the choreographer, and Anne Bogart, the innovative theater figure, presented in June as part of the Bard College SummerScape Festival. A skillful marriage of dance and spoken word, "The Rite" fused the prodigious talents of Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company members with those of Bogart's SITI Company seamlessly in a spectacle that conjured the themes espoused in Nijinsky's original choreography, the furor of that notorious Paris crowd of 1913, and the international conflicts in which we have been embroiled since that time.
A revisionist "Sacre" from Shen Wei, the Chinese-born American choreographer, unveiled at Mass MoCA in October, seemed less respectful of the Stravinsky vision, even though Shen is said to have spent two to three years studying the composer's score. Employing 12 dancers reacting to the music on a full-stage grid painted by Shen, the movement often marked the notes proffered by the recorded music. But with little suggestion of spring, a pagan rite or the requisite sacrificial virgin, this "Rite" seemed an exercise too demanding for even the most vivid of spectator imaginations.
The Dance Theatre of Harlem inaugurated the Pillow season, and how cheering it was to welcome the company back after an eight-year hiatus for financial readjustments. Now led by the company's former prima ballerina, Virginia Johnson, the troupe's 18 dancers, leaner in number, pursued an ambitious program from its repertory treasure chest with enthusiasm and a few suggestions that the halcyon days under its founder, Arthur Mitchell, might be reclaimable.
Ballet, often an afterthought in opera, and more than occasionally the weakest element, obviously prospers under the adroit direction of Samuel Murez whose 3e Étage: Soloists and Dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet offered the most entertaining set of evenings this summer at the Pillow. In "Le Pillow Thirteen," a delightful series of vignettes, cinematic in nature, its 10 dancers had fun with the stuffy notions of ballet that proved both hilarious and wondrous in technique.
Wendy Whelan is the "Restless Creature" who offered evidence that after two decades as a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet it is not necessary to hang it all up and drift away. Turning her attention to modern, she commissioned four notable choreographers to make duets and then to be the partner in each case. Brian Brooks worked with Whelan for more than a year, and their collaboration offered consummate optimism for Whelan's future in modern dance.
Kyle Abraham, working with Whelan for a much shorter time, clearly established a relationship quickly and his dance also spirited her ambitions.
Ballet is moving ever forward in new directions, and remarkable proof arrived with Ballet B.C. in the Pillow's July lineup. Led by artistic director Emily Molnar, the company's eight women and eight men dancers defined contemporary ballet with cogency and spirit in three U.S. premieres. Clearly grounded in classical styles, these nimble dancers suggested what lies beyond our conventional notion of movement's parameters.
The Nicholas Brothers, Fred Astaire and our modern wizard of the art, Savion Glover, over the years have kept us aware of the specialized realm of tap dancing. But Michelle Dorrance in July brought credibility to the idea of integrating tap into the total discipline of dance making. "The Blues Project" unveiled by Dorrance Dance offered the customary solo and group formations, but more importantly advanced into amazing three- and four-part steps in a Dorrance collaboration with colleagues Derick K. Grant and Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, performed with the live music of Toshi Reagon.
Live music, a necessary element whenever practicable for Ella Baff, the Pillow's executive and artistic director, reverberated through the Pillow in performances by Shantala Shivalingappa, the choreographer and dancer from India, and O Vertigo Danse from Montreal, executing its "La Vie Qui Bat" vividly with Steve Reich's composition, "Drumming."
Comfort was another factor in the successful season at Jacob's Pillow. The Ted Shawn and the Doris Duke theaters both were outfitted with new seats replacing the old hard chairs in the Shawn and the seats that always seemed temporary in the Duke.
Mark Morris, another strong advocate of live music, was back at Tanglewood this summer, with members of his Mark Morris Dance Group, collaborating with Tanglewood Music Center Fellows in persuasive accounts of Benjamin Britten's "Curlew River" and Henry Purcell's "Dido and Aeneas."
The Paul Taylor Dance Company's sixth annual visit to the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington, pleased fans with a New England premiere, "Perpetual Dawn," invoking the bucolic Taylor of youthful ardor, along with the darker Taylor from his 1985 piece, "Last Look," and the gorgeously extravagant "Cascade" from 1999, to J.S. Bach.
Albany Berkshire Ballet crept beyond the "Nutcracker" ghetto this year, offering encouraging spring performances at The Egg in Albany and the Boyd-Quinson Main Stage at Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield. And based on public reaction last April, Madeline Cantarella Culpo, the troupe's artistic director, suggests that this expanded policy will continue, with Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana" on the company's 2014 agenda for early May.
Dance also has found a suitable home in Chatham, N.Y. at PS21, the Performance Spaces for the 21st Century. A visit to watch Parsons Dance in late August disclosed conditions good for dancers and spectators, and the schedule seems ever growing. Even more encouraging, zoning board meetings are taking place concerning approval of a permanent structure to replace PS21's performance tent. For the sake of dance and the other arts pursued at PS21, one holds good thoughts for approval and eventual construction. PS21 makes a notable contribution to the regional arts scene.