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YEAR IN DANCE 2011: Dancers excelled with exciting new work (and vintage classics), and redefined the concept of "performance space"

AXIS Dance Company's Full of Words by Marc Brew, with dancers Alice Sheppard and Sonsheree Giles

The Polish Teatr Zar's stunningly original and impeccably realized The Gospels of Childhood Triptych, (May 25, St. Gregory's Episcopal Church and Potrero Hill Neighborhood House) is one of the reasons that the San Francisco International Arts Festival has to exist. With its ritualistic pacing and its fusion of music, movement, and language ("Zar" means "funeral song"), Gospels attempted to suggest something approaching the divine and the restrictions of the self.

Pooling resources is today's mantra. But few go to the depth of intellectual and emotional sharing that Janice Garrett and Charles Moulton do. They co-choreographed the exhilarating The Experience of Flight in Dreams (June 9, ODC Theater) and came up with a soloists-ensemble format rarely seen in modern dance. To have such a unified and well-realized perspective from such different artists was thrilling.

Science, or writers such Maxine Hong Kingston or Gary Snyder, often inspire Kathryn Roszak's work. The reprise of the fine Pensive Spring (Sept. 25, Hertz Hall, UC Berkeley), based on the works by Emily Dickinson, proved to be a thoroughly intelligent and finely crafted dance theater piece that illuminated a great creative mind through music, dance, and language.

AXIS Dance Company (Oct. 7, Malonga Casquelourd Theater) commissioned the Australian choreographer Marc Brew to give the company its first story-ballet. Taking a bow to dance history and soap operas, Brew's slyly voyeuristic Full of Words moved through knotted entanglements with insight, humor, and compassion. It was a fine vehicle for the company and should be around for a long time.

José Limón is a giant of early modern dance, yet few practitioners have ever seen his work live. So for tiny San Jose's sjDANCEco (Oct. 15, California Theatre, San Jose) to attempt Missa Brevis, a major Limon choreography, just about amounted to hubris. But former Limón dancer and sjDANCEco's artistic director, Gary Masters, scoured the community and trained the dancers — some of them college and high school students — in the requisite combination of strength and restraint. The performance of this jewel of modernism became a minor miracle.

Finally, Deborah Slater and Julie Hébert's Night Falls (Oct. 21, ODC Theater) looked at the process of aging from a "three ages of man" perspective, except that this was a woman's life crisis. Most intriguing was the way language and dance — much of it gestural — bounced off each other, creating the vibrant environment in which the performers could fully extend themselves.

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