Best (and worst) Dance of 2011

The word of the year was Devotion

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Sarah Michelson, Devotion

Sarah Michelson, Devotion Photograph: Paula Court

THE BEST
Sarah Michelson Devotion is an act. In an art form with few rewards, faith isn't just a loose term in dance, it's what draws you back to the studio day after day. For her look at Devotion, Michelson layered Biblical themes—courtesy of Richard Maxwell's text, which she read aloud—with a poetic and raw choreographic distillation paying homage to a generation of heroes, including Merce Cunningham, Lucinda Childs, George Balanchine and Twyla Tharp. Would New York City Ballet give her a call already?

Trajal Harrell In (M)imosa, the medium-size version of Twenty Looks or Paris Is Burning at the Judson Church (also available in extra-small, small, large and extra-large), the choreographer enlisted Cecilia Bengolea, Franois Chaignaud and Marlene Monteiro Freitas for a wondrous, wild trip into the cult of personality and performance. Harrell's investigation into the world of voguing continues with more sizes. (Robert Battle, this one's for you.)

Orbs Sometimes revivals don't work, but it's enough to just see the dance. With the return of Paul Taylor's Orbs—showcasing the penetrating James Samson as the lead—there was, in front of our eyes, a masterpiece of form and content, which operated like Russian nesting dolls, revealing more and more until the initial idea behind it—the seasons and the universe—transformed into an exploration of the development of modern dance. (And serving, in an unexpected way, as a counterpart to Devotion.)

Tool Is Loot This collaboration between Wally Cardona and Jennifer Lacey—with Jonathan Bepler's odd, whimsical score—incorporated strangers' feedback, from the mundane to the profound, to show their inimitable, transfixing gifts as performers.

Ivo Dimchev This Bulgarian artist provided a double-shot of his fearless vision in Lili Handel at La MaMa in March (for this, he embodied an aging transsexual) and Som Faves at Dixon Place in May (the work is based on some of his favorite things). Both ended with blood! What more can you ask for?

Eiko & Koma As part of their impressive retrospective project, the Japanese artists transformed time and space—and the very notion of nature—with typical unflinching commitment in Naked at the Baryshnikov Arts Center and in Water at the Paul Milstein Pool as part of Lincoln Center Out of Doors.

Xavier Le Roy at the Museum of Modern Art Live performance is becoming less of an exception at MoMA; several choreographers—Trisha Brown, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, Ralph Lemon—presented work in the Atrium space. (It was distracting, yet thrilling; I'm all for more.) The museum approached things a little differently for Le Roy's groundbreaking 1998 solo Self Unfinished. As the final visitors exited the space, Le Roy stepped onto his stage; it was the right time, the right place, the right piece: a perfect convergence.

Beth Gill For her intimate exploration of symmetry and precision, the choreographer created Electric Midwife for the Chocolate Factory—an experiment of structural twinning so microscopic that it seared the memory for weeks to come.

The Little Humpbacked Horse The Mariinsky Ballet—formerly, of course, the Kirov—brought Alexei Ratmansky's glittering comedy to Lincoln Center Festival. Just who is more capable of pinpointing the exact place where ballet and comedy meet than Ratmansky? He's taken the mantle from Jerome Robbins. Keep them coming.

Merce Cunningham Dance Company The group's final year has made any appearance by this company a must. But the revival of Quartet—a haunting look at isolation—remains indelibly etched in the mind. The company's final performance is at the Park Avenue Armory on December 31, and it's really the only way to bid farewell to 2011.

Richard Move In the absorbing Martha@... The 1963 Interview, Move reenacted an interview that Martha Graham conducted with critic Walter Terry (played by Lisa Kron) at the 92nd Street Y. 

A few honorable mentions: Steven Reker's People Get Ready, Rachid Ouramdane's Ordinary Witnesses, Emily Johnson's The Thank-You Bar, Savion Glover's SoLe Sanctuary, Royal Danish Ballet's La Sylphide, Verdensteatret's And All the Question Marks Started to Sing, Mark Morris's choreography in Nixon in China.

THE WORST
Horrid new ballet choreography Ocean's Kingdom, Peter Martins's stab at choreographing Paul McCartney's undanceable score, was a bore beyond comprehension. But equal in awfulness at New York City Ballet was Lynne Taylor-Corbett's The Seven Deadly Sins. And let's not leave out American Ballet Theatre! Two names: Demis Volpi and Benjamin Millepied.

There's so much mediocrity at the Joyce that it's hard to know where to start. If you want to see Jorma Elo—or something generically like it—this is the place. A quick list of culprits: Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, Houston Ballet, Sydney Dance Company, Morphoses, ODC, Keigwin + Company and, always it seems, Complexions Contemporary Ballet.

David Hallberg's defection to the Bolshoi Ballet.
(I will just miss him.)

Beyonc's indifference to the issue of choreographic ownership when she took movement from Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker for "Countdown."

The deeply flawed expanded version of Revelations at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

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