Most artists chase that winning formula where concept aligns with execution to produce a meaningful audience experience. These 10 dance shows are among those that I believe succeeded, but also delivered something extra. Startling, memorable and energizing, they’ve become personal touchstones, reminding me how powerful and interesting movement can be.
1. Betroffenheit (Panamania/Canadian Stage, July 2015)
What to say about this gut-wrenching collaboration between actor Jonathon Young and choreographer Crystal Pite? It was a perfect storm of tragic source material, production smarts and inspired dance that pushed the boundaries of exploring text and movement.
2. Physical Thinking (National Ballet of Canada, June 2019)
Be still my beating heart. William Forsythe’s choreography is the gold standard for ballet excitement, and the NBoC did him proud with exquisite renditions of The Second Detail, The Vertiginous Thrill Of Exactitude and the remarkable Approximate Sonata.
3. Floor’d (Holla Jazz, April 2018)
Friends are probably sick of me raving about Natasha Powell and company’s spirited exploration of juke joints and vernacular jazz. The all-styles dance cast and smoking onstage jazz orchestra led by music director Gerald Heslop helped make this one of my favourite dance-show experiences ever.
4. Dollhouse (Berkeley Street Theatre, November 2016)
Dancer Bill Coleman’s solo included magical contributions from veteran sound artist Gordon Monahan. Their tightly choreographed performance was a funny and gripping tour de force of comedy, tap dance, grotesque movement and charming sound-making contraptions.
5. Swan Lake/Loch na hEala (Luminato, June 2018)
Another heartbreaker that trod the thin line between mundane horrors and transcendent beauty, Michael Keegan-Dolan’s Swan Lake had little to do with ballet and lots to do with the human condition. Playing out in rural Ireland, the work featured contemporary performers from all over the world, including Australia’s contemporary dance doyenne Elizabeth Cameron Dalman.
6. The Kiss (Art Gallery of Ontario, 2010)
First installed at the AGO in 2006, Tino Sehgal’s The Kiss got a second go-round after it was donated to the gallery in 2008. Both times its slow-moving beauty confounded gallery visitors not really expecting to see live performers making out amongst the Renaissance masters. For many of us, the work challenged how we watch dance.
7. Marienbad (Toronto Dance Theatre, May 2016)
Toronto Dance Theatre presented tons of memorable shows this past decade, including inspired remakes of Chiasmata and Persephone’s Lunch. But I especially loved this duet by Christopher House and writer Jordan Tannahill. Tender, but also menacing, the pair embodied the work’s own meandering sensibility, offering lessons in how unexpected energy shifts and different kinds of theatrical resolution impact performance.
8. Political Mother (Canadian Stage, October 2012)
Some hated this loud and brash full-length work by Hofesh Shechter, furious spawn of Ohad Naharin’s Batsheva Dance Company, but I was excited by the passionate energy behind its unofficial motto, “Where there is pressure, there is folk dance.”
9. La Edad de Oro (Koerner Hall, March 2014)
Israel Galván’s homage to the traditional flamenco framework of dance, guitar and singing used formidable technique to chart new choreographic territory. Watching Galván dance is a time trip in which respect for the past powers all the possibilities of the future.
10. Xenos (Canadian Stage, October 2018)
UK-based kathak master Akram Khan gathered a stellar creative team to deliver a moving poem about war – who fights, what are the costs, why can’t civilization move on from conflict? Here, unforgettable imagery met unresolvable meaning.