I recap the Bay Area’s year in dance for today’s Chronicle:

“HIGH: ODC Dance Commons ODC/Dance opened a gleaming 23,000-square-foot, $9.5 million center for dance in the Mission. With classes for young and old, rehearsal space for up-and-coming San Francisco companies, a physical therapy clinic, community lounge and — every dancer’s ultimate dream — clean showers, this bustling hub is a boost to the entire dance community.

LOW: Oakland Ballet Just months after a 40th anniversary comeback, the company announced in January that it would dissolve after floundering under Artistic Director Karen Brown. But then in December, Oakland Ballet’s beloved 70-year-old founder, Ronn Guidi, brought his “Nutcracker” back to the Paramount Theatre — a move he hopes is prelude to starting a new ballet troupe in Oakland.

MOST IMPROVED: Erika Shuch. Her intuitive style of dance theater is tender, hip and unafraid to ask big, childlike questions. Her talent announced itself early — but then the growing pains came. Intersection for the Arts let her keep exploring, even when the immediate results were distanced and diffuse. Then in July she unveiled “Orbit” — sweet, silly and serious all at once, and her best work yet.

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: Yuri Possokhov. The San Francisco Ballet principal dancer retired from dancing, but not before being named resident choreographer. This dramatic Bolshoi alumnus has too much talent for the company to let him get away.”

A list of top 10 performances follows, and I’m rather pleased with it. My personal seared-into-memory favorites: Kathak master Birju Maharaj, San Francisco Ballet in Forsythe’s “Artifact Suite,” and the kinesthetic superheroes of Batsheva Dance Company.

I deliberated long and hard about the rest of the field because it was, locally, a better-than-average year for dance. Just six years ago the San Francisco dance scene was in crisis, forced out of its real estate by the dot com boom, angry, and panicked. Now Margaret Jenkins has her own space again–and one of her best works in years, “A Slipping Glimpse,” soon to embark on national tour. Brenda Way at ODC has given us a light-filled dance center, home to the come-as-you-are classes of Rhythm and Motion, to local companies, and indeed to the whole dance commuity.

Over on Market and 7th, the San Francisco Dance Center is filled not just with professional dancers but also the students of LINES Ballet’s new BFA program–and artistic director Alonzo King has just won a prestigious new USA Artists grant. Rob Bailis is now at the helm of ODC Theater, bringing us smartly curated programs of Bay Area and national talents alike. San Francisco Ballet is dancing better than ever, and gearing up for a 75th anniversary season in 2008.

Could we be entering another Bay Area dance boom? 2007 is looking awfully good. I’ll have a list of 10 dance performances to look forward to in next Sunday’s Datebook. The obvious picks are there–San Francisco Ballet, Alvin Ailey, Paul Taylor–but so are several lower-flying San Francisco-based talents I’ve had my eye on. Watch out for the link here next Sunday, and in the meantime let me know your own highlights from 2006.

Here’s to much more great dancing in 2007. Happy New Year.

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