Dance: The best (and worst) of 2008

Batsheva Ensemble
Kamuyot marked what has become—no complaints—Ohad Naharin’s annual contribution to the dance season. Batsheva Ensemble’s all-too-brief run at the Jewish Community Center featured Naharin’s junior company in an enthralling dance performed in the round. Next year, he returns with Max at BAM’s Howard Gilman Opera House (March 4--7).

Michael Clark
The return of Clark to New York in honor of his Stravinsky Project was a refreshing blast from the past. The dancer and choreographer proved that he isn’t just a fashionable icon of the postpunk era, but the real thing.

Crossing the Line
It’s not that there weren’t good things to see this year before the French Institute Alliance Franaise’s Crossing the Line Festival kicked off with a compelling lecture by Jrme Bel. But with their exhilarating curation, Lili Chopra and Simon Dove gave us Christian Rizzo, Ivana Mller, Pascal Rambert and Rachid Ouramdane, too.

Alex Escalante
Social issues are out of favor in contemporary dance, but the Mexican-American choreographer changed all of that in Clandestino, at Danspace Project, a sly, charming and theatrically engaging look at immigration.

Beth Gill
The first half of what it looks like, what it feels like, performed at the Kitchen, featured dancers on a mirrored floor, on which footprints seemed like the residue of ghosts. It marked another stunner by Gill.

Trajal Harrell
The choreographer walks a fine line between the depiction of what is hollow and what is full; in Quartet for the End of Time, performed at Dance Theater Workshop, it was mercifully the latter.

Rachid Ouramdane
In his last work presented at Dance Theater Workshop, Discreet Deaths, the stage was glimmering white; in Far..., his follow-up at the same theater, the French-Algerian choreographer chose to surround himself in glimmering black. A mesmerizing look at history and identity, Far... cemented Ouramdane as one of the most gripping artists working today.

Alexei Ratmansky
It’s hard to know where to begin: From his dances for the State Ballet of Georgia (Bizet Variations, Dreams about Japan) to Diana Vishneva’s Beauty in Motion (Pierrot Lunaire) and New York City Ballet (Concerto DSCH), Ratmansky established himself as a choreographic force. In 2009, he joins American Ballet Theatre as its artist in residence. Stay tuned....

Meg Stuart and Philipp Gehmacher
“Long arms,” Stuart said as she raised them from time to time in her collaboration with Gehmacher, Maybe Forever. The enigmatic, beautiful and melancholy work, which featured songs by the Brussels songwriter Niko Hafkenscheid and was performed at DTW, made the notion of impermanence incandescent.

Twyla Tharp
This year, Tharp has created new works for prominent companies (Miami City Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet); for American Ballet Theatre, she unveiled Rabbit and Rogue. It was flawed, but crazy, and who doesn’t appreciate that? There were also several astute revivals, among them Brief Fling (ABT) Brahms/Handel (NYCB) and Brahms Paganini (Kansas City Ballet).

Basil Twist
In Petrushka, performed at Clark Studio Theater as part of New Visions: Stravinsky Onstage, Twist presented his insanely beautiful dance for puppets (manned by dancers). First premiered in 2001, the work is fantasy come to life.

Honorable mentions: the departures of Tom Gold, Nikolaj Hbbe and Damian Woetzel from NYCB ... the ballet girls in Billy Elliot ... Ann Liv Young’s The Bagwell in me at the Kitchen and Tribute to Elliot at the Center for Performance Research ... Jill Johnson’s dance-installation The Copier for Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet ... Christopher Wheeldon’s Commedia ... Mark Morris’s Joyride for the San Francisco Ballet.

While it would be easy to recall some of the more insipid performances and festivals of the year, the most tragic event was the death of Clive Barnes in November at the age of 81. He lived a full life, but for all who had the pleasure to know him, it simply wasn’t long enough. A way to remember someone—especially a critic—is to appreciate something or someone they loved. The next time you’re at NYCB, pay attention to the luminous young talent Kathryn Morgan. As you watch her dance, think about Barnes. He adored her.