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The 10 best dance shows of 2014

From a Retrospective like no other to the unflinching choreography of Sarah Michelson and Savion Glover, here are our top dances from 2014

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The rich offerings of 2014 afforded both imaginative premieres and revivals, chief among them Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker's presentation of four penetrating early works, to show how dance is rejuvenated with and for each generation. Xavier Le Roy's Retrospective at MoMA PS1 (still running through December 1) expands the notion of choreography with live and recorded movement, dancers' personal stories and an installation.

Which brings us to the top two. As Merce Cunningham famously put it, "You have to love dancing to stick to it. It gives you nothing back, no manuscripts to store away, no paintings to show on walls and maybe hang in museums, no poems to be printed and sold, nothing but that single fleeting moment when you feel alive. It is not for unsteady souls." Dance requires devotion. After walking out of Savion Glover's trenchant homage to the masters of tap, in which he danced nonstop without acknowledging the crowd, the first thing I thought of was Sarah Michelson and her emphatic devotion series: These two, singular choreographers are in conversation. Both are in the service of dance; just as they honor dance history, they are becoming it.

RECOMMENDED: Best of 2014

TAO Dance Theater

Tao Ye, the Chinese choreographer, brought two works, 4 and 5, to the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts as part of the second annual Visions + Voices lobal Performance Series. In 4, four dancers move as a hypnotic pack; the mystical 5, a quintet, features a cluster of bodies—the dancers always touch—to reconfigure what a solo can be.

Dana Michel

The American Realness Festival introduced New Yorkers to a distinct choreographic voice from Montreal. In Yellow Towel, inspired by how, as a child, Michel would drape a yellow towel on her head as a way to emulate the blond girls at her school, she turns cultural stereotypes upside down in a riveting look at identity and metamorphosis.
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Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker

Lincoln Center Festival unveiled a fascinating survey of this Belgian choreographer’s early and influential works, from the seminal Fase to Rosas danst Rosas—one that Beyoncé borrowed liberally from for her video “Countdown”—Elena’s Aria and Bartók/Mikrokosmos.

Christian Rizzo

As part of Danse: A French-American Festival of Performance and Ideas, the Lyon Opera Ballet reprised Christian Rizzo’s 2004 work, ni fleurs, ni ford-mustang at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. From its incremental pace to its austere set—a hanging skeleton, red shoes, a deer carcass—Rizzo’s strange, mythical world was reborn, as luminous as ever.
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Basil Twist

In his vivid interpretation of The Rite of Spring, performed at the Rose Theater as part of the White Light Festival, the puppeteer uses rippling silk, rings of smoke and the notion of “a ballet without dancers” to create a sensational staging of Stravinsky’s classic score.

Gisèle Vienne

The haunting Kindertotenlieder was a remarkable way to enter into the uncanny world of Gisèle Vienne; this staggering dance-theater work, featuring text by Dennis Cooper and music by KTL, transformed New York Live Arts into a snowy winter night, a funeral and a rock concert.
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Xavier Le Roy

In Retrospective, the French artist and choreographer transforms the very idea of how dance can operate in a museum. The survey of his work, realized by a group of performers who recycle and transform Le Roy’s solos created between 1994 and 2010 at MoMA PS1, is both fragile and revelatory.

Alexei Ratmansky

For whatever reasons—though speed, attack and musicality must be among them—New York City Ballet seems to draw the best out of the Russian choreographer Alexei Ratmansky. His Pictures at an Exhibition, which premiered this fall at the David H. Koch Theater, brings Mussorgsky’s score to vivid life, by turn wild, tender and always classical.
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Savion Glover

In Om, performed at the Joyce Theater, the tap dancer explored the connection between dance and spirituality in a nearly 90-minute solo on a stage covered with votives: This was dance as church, as rigorous as anything Glover has ever produced and unforgettable.

Sarah Michelson

For her return to the Whitney Museum of American Art after winning the Bucksbaum Award for Devotion Study #1—The American Dancer, Michelson premiered 4, an even deeper excavation into the devotion that a life in dance requires. The arduous, painstaking choreography—a tapestry of somersaults and quick, bursting jumps—was a remarkable extension of reverence. I bow down.
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