Where 2004 Was A Good Year

Money is tight as ever, but the year past and the one to come show dance’s resilience

A year of disappointments on the political front, 2004 proved to be a pretty good one for modern dance, in terms of both productions and announcements about the future.

Frank Gehry is designing a new Joyce Theater home in the World Trade Center’s cultural site. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater opened its brand new shiny building. Dance Space Center sealed the deal on their amazing space, and, like the Baryshnikov Arts Center, will open in 2005.

The “Fall for Dance” festival at City Center was standing-room-only, proving that dance can be marketed to the masses. Leadership and institutional changes at DTW, P.S. 122 and 651 Arts offer great promise.

True, Dance Theater of Harlem’s school has its financial woes––solved, for the time being, by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. A solution for Dixon Place has been deferred, and WAX ended its experiment. New York State Council on the Arts funding is down, corporate mergers and spin-offs are reducing sources and foundation giving is still not back to pre-9/11 levels, but stocks are up and there is renewed foundation interest in supporting individual artists. Thanks to public initiatives like Dance/NYC, the word is out about income-based health care options for the industry. Overall, things are looking up.

And it seemed like people were dancing everywhere, 24/7. Rare solos, absurd outbursts of random movement, adaptations, life as performance and the end of a trilogy were among the year’s high points. Each of these events had an intensely personal quality that made me want to get closer to the choreographers and performers.

DAVID GORDON

“Dancing Henry V”

Danspace Project

New Yorkers will have a second chance to see this brilliant, timely choreographically delightful adaptation when Danspace Project at St. Mark’s Church brings Gordon back in March. The dance sequences are cleverly crafted and stately and they imaginatively visualize the text.

JONATHAN BURROWS AND MATEO FARGION

“Both Sitting Duet”

The Kitchen

Two white, middle-aged men sit in chairs and mostly move their arms to a written score in a coordinated manner. The body as an instrument of visual music has never conveyed better the essence of a live performance. This performance was genius.

KRAPP

“Mendiolaza”

American Dance Festival

There’s not enough room here to comment on the played-out American Dance Festival programming and its—um—questionable finances and management, but the irony is that the best thing on its bill this summer was a dance theater group from Argentina called Krapp, named for Beckett’s most popular play in Latin America, “Krapp’s Last Tape.” If we are lucky, some smart presenter in New York will bring these guys here soon.

KITT JOHNSON X-ACT

“The Mirror”

Danspace Project

A mesmerizing, shape-shifting solo of “woman” exploring “cloth” early in the fall season, after Johnson’s extended, self-imposed writing moratorium, served as a profound reminder that modern dance remains one of the most universal, evocative and creative artistic forms of communication in the world and that it must be written about, promulgated and promoted. On stage and off, the sleeper has awakened, evolved out of the darkness from a crawling insect to an animal and now to a human, beautiful, inconstant and fragile.

RALPH LEMON

“Come Home Charley Patton”

Brooklyn Academy of Music

In Part 3 of his multi-year “Geography” project, the choreographer completes his intensely personal journey as an artist and as an African-American man confronting racism. Nearly ten years and three continents later, Mr. Lemon has created a living museum of experience, perpetuated in performance, photography, installation, Web sites and books. “Come Home Charley Patton” is storytelling as 21st-century high art.

RISA JAROSLOW

“Whole Sky”

Dance Theatre Workshop

Simple humanity. Lyrical dancing. Partnering in a manner that suggests taking great care with one another. Emotions beyond anxiety and selfishness. It is rare to see all this on stage in this space. Jaroslow, her fine dancers and her noble guest non-artists remind us that there is more at stake than remembering those who attacked us. We must remember our love, lest we forget.

SAM KIM

“Nobody Understands Me”

Dance Theatre Workshop

This is a tribute to the 1980’s that captures the attitude of an era with glittering plastic curtains and aerobic dancing to Duran Duran, Yaz, Depeche Mode, Erasure and even Johnny Cash. A gang of teased-blonde hair, go-gos serve as a conformist counterpoint to the trio of alienated “alternateen” predecessors. With great lighting.

TERE O’CONNOR

“Frozen Mommy”

The Kitchen

In the age of reality TV, the eccentric gadfly O’Connor and his very young dancers have created a beautiful, poignant reality dance. He’s gay, hugely talented, and the night I was there so was Alexander Petrovsky. Take that America. Take that New York Times.

We also publish:

More from Around NYC