Best Dance Performances of 2009
Alexandra Kochis and Christopher Budzynski danced the roles of Shakespeare's star-crossed lovers in Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's "Romeo et Juliette" in February.
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Local dance organizations came up with a creative response to the economic downturn in 2009. Several were big ticket items such as Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's comprehensive "Light/The Holocaust and Humanity Project," the Kelly Strayhorn's dance festival and Conservatory Dance Company's warm-hearted "The Bench." Others, such as Attack Theatre, found low-cost solutions by sharing space with Pittsburgh Opera (and art galleries in 2010). By stepping out on a limb, PBT came out on top with a pair of contemporary ballets that paid huge artistic dividends -- the aforementioned "Light" and the pick of the year, "Romeo et Juliette."
1. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, "Romeo et Juliette" (Benedum Center, Feb. 14): Jean-Christophe Maillot's brilliant rethinking of Shakespeare's love story took the No. 1 spot due to virtually perfect casting choices, led by the radiantly feisty Alexandra Kochis and her attentive lover, Christopher Budzynski, with uncommonly strong support from the conflicted Friar Laurence (Christopher Rendall-Jackson) and the emotions erupted front and center from an inspired ensemble, with not a weak link to be seen. This production was the equal of the original cast at Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo.
2. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, "Light/The Holocaust and Humanity Project" (Byham Theater, Nov. 12): The biggest event attempted by PBT in 40 years, involving 23 partner organizations over a span of four weeks, this collaboration reached a cumulative audience of 14,000. But by itself, Stephen Mills' "Light" was a powerful ballet that resonated with its audience. It was also a great fit for the company's actor/dancers -- led here by the beautifully resilient Julia Erickson -- who have really responded to Terrence Orr's dramatic directions with the company.
3. Attack Theatre, "Incident[s] in the Strip" (Pittsburgh Opera, Nov. 17): The most sophisticated blend of music and choreographic mayhem that we've seen from this trigger-happy group. Where else would you find a Marx Brothers mentality along with whimsically wonderful contemporary dance and a rock-solid musical score that borrows from "La Traviata" and the Muppets?
4. "New Moves" (Kelly Strayhorn Theater, May 7-10): It was an edgy dance collaboration between New York, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh choreographers that spanned four days, great for catching the latest movement trends from a group of young talents. But "New Moves" also was symbolic of Janerra Solomon's astute direction at the East Liberty theater, where she has embraced everything from community works and social interaction to classic movies and serious art like this.
5. Dance Alloy, "Exposed" (New Hazlett Theater, April 4): The final performance under artistic director Beth Corning. She played to her strengths in this strong trifecta of works from female choreographers. It was mesmerizing to watch the carefully calculated, intense images in Nora Chipaumire's "becoming angels," Victoria Marks' "Dancing to Music" and Corning's own "4-2 Men."
6. Batsheva, "Three" (Pittsburgh Dance Council, Benedum Center, Feb. 5): Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin gave us an up-close-and-personal glimpse of his fluid style of movement in "Three," a blend of "beauty, nature and existence." It was a chance to see why Naharin is in demand worldwide.
7. The Pillow Project, "Sorta Saturday" (The Space Upstairs, Dec. 12): Under artistic director Pearlann Porter, the Pillow has been bursting with creativity since June. This finale to the season, a "gala" in Pillow terms with homemade hors doeuvres, was an evening-length jam session in the best jazz sense. The energy virtually rebounded off the walls as the performers, selected for their individual impact on the company during its five years of exploring the arts, concocted a terrific improvisational conversation.
8. Ronald K. Brown/Evidence, "One Shot" (PDC and August Wilson Center, Byham, May 2): What drove this performance were Teenie Harris' remarkable photos of life in the Hill District. But the choreography, while flawed in its relationship to the various eras on the Hill, had a rhythmic life all its own, so distinctly Afro-Brown.
9. Conservatory Dance Company, "The Bench" (Pittsburgh Playhouse, Dec. 13): With an eye on high production values, Kiesha Lalama-White fashioned a family album of memories in this full-length dance event. Using a traditional jazz vocabulary with traditional jazz music, this was as tight a dance production as CDC has presented.
10. Bodiography, "Innovation 2009" (Byham, Feb. 21): The resourceful Maria Caruso lured Tony Award-winning choreographer Lynne Taylor-Corbett to choreograph the Appalachian-inspired "Heart Songs." Along with Ilana Suprun-Clyde's duet for Caruso and Lauren Suflita, it was surprising to see the sweep and passion that these dancers could conjure.