Risk-taking choreographers reached new heights in 2012
At the end of September, Birju Maharaj, the 74-year-old Kathak virtuoso, packed the Palace of Fine Arts with a primarily Indian audience who sat through a four-plus hour performance of superb dance. Maharaj performs here every couple of years, often with a similar repertoire. And still you sit there and can't believe your eyes and ear at this gentle, witty, and generous artist playing "games" with someone like Zakir Hussein.
During its 41st home season, ODC/Dance premiered KT Nelson's Transit. Taking one look at Max Chen's whimsical bike concoctions, I just knew that they would steal the show — but they didn't. Nelson used these metamorphosing velocipedes to call to the stage an image of urban life as fast-paced, fluid, and unstable. Yet for all its fractured continuity, Nelson and ODC's superb dancers seemed to say, it's a wonderful life.
San Francisco Ballet's Beau raised more eyebrows than any of its other commissions, as far as I can remember. Longtime guest artist Mark Morris has built up expectations, so people were furious, feeling let down by what they considered thin, slipshod, easy-way-out choreography. My opinion was in the minority — so I'm looking forward to the piece's return to find out whether what I thought was there, really is.
In the fall, my first encounter with Einstein at the Beach opened my ears and eyes to what I had known as "an opera" by Robert Wilson and Philip Glass. Surprising to see was how its exquisite details and extraordinary stylization owed more to kabuki than opera, and how Lucinda Childs' choreography fit into it like a jewel set into a frame. For once the hype surrounding a piece did not even approach the reality of the experience.
Dancers around the world know the Venezuelan-born David Zambrano as a superb, idiosyncratic teacher. So his Soul Project, set to a rich selection of blues and soul music, raised questions about his approach to choreography. Using the YBCA's Forum as a unified space for dancers and audience, Soul's meandering trajectory — you never knew who would perform what where — made this one of the year's most intimate experiences. To be a couple of inches away from such different, yet such superb performers doing what they do best was a treat.