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Year in Review 2009: Dance

Dance venues felt economic pinch; SPAC cut week of ballet

Sunday, December 27, 2009
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Alvin Ailey Dance Company thrilled with “Revelations” at its performance last May at the Palace Theatre in Albany.
Alvin Ailey Dance Company thrilled with “Revelations” at its performance last May at the Palace Theatre in Albany.

For consumers, it was another year of cutting back. Performing arts presenters followed suit, with the most severe cuts in dance since the early 1990s.

Perhaps the most difficult for the dance loving public was the loss of a week of New York City Ballet at Saratoga Performing Arts Center. After years of dwindling attendance, the ballet administrators felt they could no longer justify three weeks in Saratoga Springs. So management decided to slash a week from the stay in hopes of consolidating the audience. It worked, as per-night attendance rose. But overall attendance dipped again, this time by 17 percent.

The financial woes in presenting dance were also felt at The Egg, which for the past 20 years, has hosted a hefty dance series. The usual 16 or so programs has been reduced to less than half because, again, of weak attendance.

Proctors too has reduced its dance fare. With more attention to Broadway road shows, there just isn’t room on the theater’s calendar.

Legal battle

Fiscal woes also plague Kaatsbaan International Dance Center, which was embroiled in, and won, a legal battle to have its land ownership restored. The fight sapped its time and treasury. Thus, its lineup of residencies and performances was diminished. However, the directors promised to rebuild, albeit slowly, in the next few years.

Happily, however, dance audiences at Jacob’s Pillow never falter. Once again, nearly every show at the Berkshire festival enjoyed a strong house. The combination of American and international artists with established and emerging ensembles continues to lure fans and curiosity seekers.

There was another nugget of good news in 2009. Last winter, a regional dance company was born in Saratoga Springs. Nacre, directed by Beth Hartle Fecteau, had a successful premiere at the Egg in March. The ensemble, a mix of professional and student performers, is unique in that it restages masterworks from modern dance’s heyday as well as commissions new creations. At its inaugural showing, a piece by choreographer Vanessa Paige Swanson, who has strong local ties, premiered alongside works by Doris Humphrey, Anna Sokolow and Ted Shawn.

Also promising is the fact the newly opened venues are trying to fill in the voids left by SPAC, The Egg, Proctors and Kaatsbaan. The Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and PS/21, a small outdoor theater in the hills of Columbia County, are dedicated to programming dance. Bravo!

Here are 2009’s top 10 performances:

1. New York City Ballet in “Coppelia” at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center on July 14. A glowing ballet that sparkles with wit and is carried along by delightful dancing from Megan Fairchild and Andrew Veyette.

2. “Radio and Juliet” at Jacob’s Pillow on July 1. A gritty, aggressive and surreal take on Shakespeare’s tragedy, set to music by Radiohead as choreographed by Edward Clug.

3. Momix in “Botanica” at Proctors on May 2. Momix does it again with an evening-length work that is exotic, fierce and alluring.

4. New York City Ballet in “Swan Lake” at SPAC on July 15. As performed by Wendy Whelan and Philip Neal, the fairy tale’s peaks and valleys were conveyed with richness and depth.

5. Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal at Jacob’s Pillow on July 29. With choreography by Mauro Bigonzetti, Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” is heard anew as bold and captivating.

6. Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company in “Brink” at The Egg on May 8. This regional modern dance company has hit a new high with this work in which music, not other artists, guide the choreographer’s vision.

7. Chunky Move in “Glow” at the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center on December 3. A high-tech work that is a hypnotic tour de force.

8. Alvin Ailey American Dance Company in “Revelations” at the Palace Theatre on May 11. While some of the dancing in this 50th anniversary program seemed dated, “Revelations” remains a precious gift of transformation and redemption to the world.

9. Parsons Dance at PS/21 on July 12. If you love dance, you would revel in the endless exuberance of this crowd-pleasing ensemble.

10. Mark Morris Dance Group at SPAC on July 20. The company was meant to fill the five empty dates left by New York City Ballet. It only filled two. Yet its “V,” to music by Robert Schumann, was brilliant and inventive.

 
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