2009: The year in dance

By MARCIA B. SIEGEL  |  December 22, 2009

First performed in 1971, Loops wasn't a set choreography but a movement motif or a suggested pathway that Cunningham could interpret however he wished as he performed it over the years. A film he made in 2000, when he danced Loops mainly with his face and hands, became a template for the software artists Brian Knep, C.D.B/ Reas, Golan Levin, and Sololimited. In performance, there were more out-of-body possibilities as Boston dancer MARJORIE MORGAN and sound artist JED SPEARE used movement, video, and sampling for a looping dance, and former Cunningham dancer JONAH BOKAER danced his False Start, a duet with an animated on-screen superdancer.

The postmodern dancers who began working in the 1960s pushed the choreographic ideas of Cunningham and his partner John Cage a lot farther than Cunningham and Cage themselves did. They adopted collage, mechanical reproduction, ordinary activity, and borrowings from popular culture as perfectly good ingredients for making dances. Since then, contemporary dance has opened up to include all these and more. We saw diverse examples this year in the work of CHRIS ELAM/MISNOMER at Concord Academy Summer Stages, ZOE/JUNIPER at the ICA sponsored by CRASHarts, and ELIZABETH STREB, also at the ICA.

Social and political issues preoccupy many choreographers. This year, CRASHarts brought RONALD K. BROWN's Evidence company to the ICA with three dances inspired by African-American history and faith. DAVID DORFMAN involved the audience in a meditation on public and private identity. Disavowal, based on the life of abolitionist John Brown, was shown at Salem State College in February.

DAVID PARKER AND THE BANG GROUP brought Show Down, their hilarious impression of Broadway and Hollywood's Annie Get Your Gun, to Summer Stages. What I like so much about Parker's humor is that even when he's taking his subject matter to pieces, you know he really loves it, too.

Last summer at Bard College, LUCINDA CHILDS revived one of the most important examples of theatrical minimalism. Dance, her 1979 collaboration with composer Philip Glass and filmmaker Sol LeWitt, offered 10 performers leaping and stepping across the stage, framed and echoed by a giant film of their predecessors, the creators of the dance. We seemed to be watching a time warp, as the images 30 years apart shared a conversation.

The Celebrity Series brought the MARK MORRIS DANCE GROUP back for an evening of modern-dance repertory. Morris is one of the few choreographers whose development over the years can be seen in live performance. The perennially popular company featured its excellent dancers, live music, and three of the choreographer's works, dating from 1992 (Bedtime), 2001 (V), and 2003 (All Fours).

The art of creating dance structure seems to be making a comeback after being submerged in floods of free-form contemporary dance. Local choreographers KELLEY DONOVAN and CAITLIN CORBETT presented especially appealing works. Donovan's Borrowed Bones, at the Dance Complex in March, showed off the choreographer's lush movement invention and her skill at composition. Corbett gives structural challenges to the technically trained dancers of her own company, which is augmented by laypersons. December wound up with Corbett's 25th-anniversary concert at BU's Tsai Center, an evening that included a series of spectacular one-minute duets for people of all ages and levels of dance training.

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