The dance season: Nine highlights

In search of honest generosity: A backward glance at the dance season

Gibson's 'Vested Souls': Find the meaning.
Gibson's 'Vested Souls': Find the meaning.

Whether because of the economy or burnout, Philadelphia's 2010 dance season was thinner and weaker than in past years. Some of our best and brightest local dance makers— Headlong Dance Theater, Subcircle, Miro, Nicole Canuso, Zane Booker, to name just a few"“ barely whispered to us through such halfhearted vehicles as workshops, benefits and sparsely announced work-in-progress-style one-night stands.

I'm not speaking of dances I personally liked or disliked. As a critic, I consciously try to put that question at the bottom of my list of evaluation criteria. It would come after whether or not the artist(s) made his intention clear. Did he choose music knowing its meaning and how it fits his intention? What do the costumes signify? And how well was it performed? Did the artist imbue the dancers with his vision? How did they absorb it, and then how did they make the audience believe it was theirs?

I'm not talking about the Broadway style of "selling it" to the audience. I'm talking about intelligent dancers opening themselves to the choreographer's vision and then channeling it to us.

The high points of the season were caused by these intelligent interpreters. Let me revisit nine performances I especially loved"“ not in any particular order, just those performances that still dance in my head. (I may have missed nuggets of good dance in some of the small venues, and I apologize in advance for their omission.)

Intentions unclear, but who cares?

Nora Gibson's totally absorbing Vested Souls, to Michael Reiley McDermott's brilliant electronic score, laid skin on me. This work, the result of Gibson's choreographic residency at Community Education Center, challenged me to find the meaning in its unrelenting repetitiveness, its fierce determination to reach its intention.

And what was that? Frankly, I still don't give a damn that I don't know. Because I do know that I saw as complete a work of art as anyone could hope to see. Jeffrey Gunshol, Jessica Warchal-King, Gibson and the estimable Eiren Shuman so deeply invested themselves in the work they made anyone who was there believe in it.

Aspen Santa Fe Ballet premiered Brooklyn-born choreographer Nicolo Fonte's 1999 work, In Hidden Seconds, at the Kimmel. Since Fonte has more than 40 dances notched in his dance belt, I wonder how Philadelphians haven't seen one prior to this May debut. His neo-classic idiomatic complexities mesmerized me emotionally yet shimmered with an intellectual clarity that continues to replay in my dreams. Balletomanes in the audience jumped to their feet at its close.

Koresh taps his spiritual side

Roni Koresh's Sense of Human surpassed all he has done before. Koresh has always made highly watchable work, and his dancers perform it with relish and expertise. But sometimes its show-biziness fails to rise to high art. Even with 14 seemingly incongruous sections, Sense of Human held together. With it, Koresh has tapped into some deeper, more spiritual well in himself. I hope to see it again to get at what that might be.

I was fortunate to be at Painted Bride when Kun-Yang Lin danced the masterful opening solo for a revised version of Traces of Brush. As a force to behold, Lin delves into himself to exude a spirituality that's matchless in the local dance scene. A simple black fan clenched mysteriously in his teeth transformed Lin into a wondrously startling creature.

Amanda Miller expertly choreographed the dance sections to Gluck's opera Orphée and Eurydice this month in the Opera Company Philadelphia's production at the Perelman. I most liked how dancer Scott Lowe colored this decorous dance with the macho tint that was missing (and needed) from mezzo-soprano Ruxandra Donose as Orphée.

Instant classics

The Pennsylvania Ballet gave us freshly polished classics as well as several newly minted works that I hope will become classics. The company's sparkling Romeo and Juliet followed on the heels of its stunning Philadelphia premiere of William Forsythe's 1987 work, In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated. In "rehearsal" mode, the dancers paced themselves from pensively considering their next steps to tornadically flying through them in "performance" mode.

Thang Dao's One Word Play made BalletX's April run memorable. I disregarded whatever his title meant"“ it may have been lost in translation "“ and just let the waves of vertical, high-velocity dancing by Anitra Keegan, Colby Damon and the other six dancers wash over me.

The final choreographic residency concert at the Susan Hess Studio last month held a corker of a surprise. Megan Mazarick's barrowful of dirt duet had Mazarick and Ben Asriel in what seemed a vicious fight to the death, with the grave already dug. After the dust settled (and there was enough to chase me out choking), the great post-modern dancer/choreographer Lucinda Childs offered a delicately pawing research of the small space. It only lasted a few minutes, but it was her gift to her friend Susan on the loss of her studio, and we who were there were gifted with a historic but intimate glimpse into the generosity of a great artist.

I think honest artistic generosity is what most fills me with awe. When I sit in my seat and begin to perceive it, I know that's why I write about dance.♦

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