My look back at the year in Bay Area dance for the San Francisco Chronicle is now online. In addition to a Top 10, the Chronicle asks its critics to choose a High, Low, Most Improved, and Most Valuable Player. My picks:
“HIGH: Gonzalo Garcia farewell performance: War Memorial Opera House (May). Fans of this irresistibly warmhearted San Francisco Ballet dancer knew saying goodbye would be emotional, but we could never have expected a leave-taking like his “Don Quixote.” When partner Tina LeBlanc came down hard on a jump and couldn’t stand, Garcia gallantly carried her off the stage. Fellow principals Molly Smolen and Tiit Helimets filled in for Act 2, while Vanessa Zahorian rushed across town to dance with Garcia for Act 3. At curtain call, Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson looked choked up, and LeBlanc stood in a leg brace applauding. The triple cast, the palpable concern and affection in the audience for LeBlanc when she fell, Garcia’s high-flying bravura – it was the kind of night at the ballet that you never forget. Another tear-jerker: the retirement of the Ballet’s incomparable Muriel Maffre (who has since resurfaced guesting with Lines Ballet) just days later.
LOW: The sudden death in April of ballet showman and former San Francisco Ballet co-director Michael Smuin saddened dedicated fans and detractors alike. Fortunately, the Smuin Ballet lives on under his right-hand woman, Celia Fushille-Burke.
MOST IMPROVED: The term “service organization” sounds too bland to describe the revitalized Dancers Group. Again under the leadership of Wayne Hazzard, Dancers Group has surged as a rallying force in the dance community, not only providing fiscal sponsorship (i.e., a nonprofit umbrella) to dozens of local companies but also organizing festivals, collaborating on a statewide initiative to promote dance on the Web and revamping its monthly newsletter, InDance (full disclosure: I am an occasional contributor). The upshot for dance lovers? Check out the comprehensive performance listings at www.dancersgroup.org and you will discover a Bay Area dance scene more lively and diverse than you probably ever imagined.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: Now in his fifth year as director of ODC Theater, Rob Bailis is hitting his stride as a presenter, nurturing fresh local talent and bringing in exciting companies from New York and beyond. His taste is smart and sophisticated, his empathy for artists is instinctive and his enthusiasm is infectious. Look for him to make an even bigger splash with a series of major festivals at Project Artaud Theater as ODC Theater temporarily closes fora major rebuilding and expansion in 2008.”
Winnowing down a Top 10 was far more difficult this year than last. Other high points that vied for inclusion: Miami City Ballet dancing Twyla Tharp’s “In the Upper Room,” Spain’s Andres Pena in a searing solo with Yaelisa’s Caminos Flamencos, next-generation Butoh maverick Shinichi Iova-Koga in his solo “milk traces,” and San Francisco Ballet in Balanchine’s “Divertimento No. 15.”
To find out who did make the Top 10, click here.
My colleague Allan Ulrich has put together his own highly informed Top 10 for Voice of Dance, sending well-earned kudos to Counterpulse executive director Jessica Robinson. To check out Allan’s highlights, click here.