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The Year In Dance

Books: I particularly admired Martin Duberman’s The Worlds of Lincoln Kirstein. Kirstein was a difficult man and his tormented psychological and sexual life has often obscured his public image; Duberman rights the balance and gives full due to Kirstein’s voracious intellect and profound commitment to civic culture. He was the last of a dying breed: No one in the dance world since has matched his range and intellectual confidence. I also enjoyed John Richardson’s A Life of Picasso: The Triumphant Years, 1917-1932, which includes an illuminating account of the artist’s marriage to the Russian dancer Olga Khoklova and his work with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes.

One of the most exciting and moving performances of the year was Mary Zimmerman’s production of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor at the Metropolitan Opera. Lucia was an inspiration for the original Parisian Giselle (1841) and Zimmerman’s production, with its haunted aura and ghostly images brings the parallels into high relief, reminding us of the close historical relationship between opera and ballet. The choreography by Daniel Pelzig is nondescript, but the production as a whole has a poetry and dramatic urgency lacking in most dance performances today. The opera will be performed again in the spring.

Mikhail Baryshnikov’s performance in Beckett Shorts at the New York Theater Workshop (still running) is extraordinary; the production is directed by JoAnne Akalaitis, with stunning sets by Alexander Brodsky and original music by Philip Glass, all of whom bring a strange beauty (and humor) to the painful and difficult emotions expressed in the text.

And then there is the Baryshnikov Arts Center, a refreshingly low-profile New York venue that offers a range of performances and “works in progress” in an intimate setting. Tickets are relatively inexpensive (or free). There is no pretense or bravura here--just a pleasant ambiance where audiences and artists can work and escape the hype that surrounds so much dance today.

The worst performance I saw in 2007 was Charlotte Vanden Eynde and Kurt Vandendriessche’s Map Me at Dance Theater Workshop, a pretentious rumination on the ‘body as map’ in which two (naked) dancers pose in static positions with images projected onto their bodies--lines, roadways, rash-like patterns, and the like. The performers barely move and spend most of their time drawing on each other’s bodies and winding packing tape around their heads. The worst of an all too common trend: empty and meretriciously “theorized” anti-dance.

By Jennifer Homans