As with all performing arts, to see professional dance in the first months of 2021 you had to connect to the internet and watch on a screen – and a surprising amount of innovation was happening there. When it got warm enough, however, the art form happily moved outside, and significantly, Jacob’s Pillow returned this summer, staging all of his open-air performances. Before we knew it, it was fall, and dance finally made a triumphant reappearance on indoor stages across the region, much to the delight of art-hungry audiences. In short, despite the challenges, dance has taken important steps forward.
Continuing the trend of last year, virtual projects, both free and paid, have made it possible for anyone with an internet connection to see exceptional dances from all over the world, including virtual choreography festivals, live performances and concerts. premieres of newly created works during the pandemic.
Boston Ballet’s very first virtual season was packed with exceptional performances, including a memorable performance by George Balanchine “Apollo,” with Paulo Arrais in the title role, and the new duo filmed “History of a memory” of the âCelebration of Jorma Eloâ program. To the music of Tchaikovsky and Bach, Viktorina Kapitonova and Tigran Mkrtchyan presented an extremely detailed and touching performance (despite the masks) of moving intimacy.
Commitment “Process and progress” The program of creations created for the company featured works by European luminaries Nanine Linning and Ken Ossola, both choreographing their first works for a North American company. But the highlight was lead dancer John Lam’s âmoving pARTSâ for eight dancers. Filmed at MBTA stations in Ashmont and Alewife as a public art project for the city of Boston, the work unfolds as a metaphor for humanity’s shared journey, transforming routine movements from here to there in moments of connection, of moving together and of celebrating the commonalities in our differences.
Additionally, the Boston Ballet expanded its digital capabilities with the launch of the UNITED, a free online content center organized to offer a range of projects, including newly created virtual reality works. The hub aims to revitalize the art form and make it more attractive and accessible, especially for those who may never have set foot in the Opera House. Chyrstyn Fentroy’s stands out among the initial offers. “Preface,” which beautifully throws dancers onto balcony tiers.
In May, after COVID vaccinations made it possible for us to breathe a little easier and to consider gathering in person, live performances started happening in various venues, mostly outdoors. Locally, Cambridge’s Starlight Square stage, created in the first summer of the pandemic, continued to be a popular venue this year for small projects.
In the Berkshires, the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival has come back to life after last summer’s hiatus due to COVID. Organizers have moved all public programming outside as the very first hybrid festival, Global pillow. Most of the festival’s programming was also available online. Tap phenomenon Michelle Dorrance and her super talent, always popular Dorrance dance took over the festival for five days, with an outdoor program on Leir Stage including a world premiere by Nicholas Van Young with original live music, as well as a captivating site-specific premiere taking viewers all over the Pillow campus. . The program of Brian Brooks / Moving Company highlighted the power of human touch, particularly in the byte “Closing Distance”, which Globe critic Janine Parker called “a gem of a dance” in which dancers “… have so much physical contact that ‘they often look like one being’. Parker also praised “LaTasha Barnes presents the continuum of jazz” as well as the 45 year old man Dallas Black Dance Theater in his first engagement Pillow, noting âthe spectacular and virtuoso style of the contemporary movement of the ensembleâ.
Closer to home, Dance for the global community back after a year off, the unofficial kickoff of the fall live dance season in September with âRe-Emergence,â a free, family-friendly event centered on four outdoor stages in Harvard Square. That same weekend, Urban dance opened its 10th anniversary season with one of the troupe’s signature dance crawl series. Called âCome on, stop listening. Hang on, come on,â the nearly complete crawls involved more than 50 dancers, musicians, storytellers and poets sharing their art through mini-vignettes at outdoor venues around the South End.
And one of the most surprising dance highlights came thanks to the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s casting of the ever-versatile John Lam in his first theatrical role. Globe theater critic Don Aucoin described Lam’s awe-inspiring portrayal of Ariel in “Storm“ like “… so spectacularly acrobatic that you might wish him to make the US men’s gymnastics team at the Olympics.”
INTERIOR AND ON STAGE
With COVID precautions in place and vaccines readily available, we were finally able to celebrate this special common chemistry found in the live theater presentation, and several productions were particularly noteworthy. “Ayodele Casel: Chasing Magic“ marked the first live performances at the Loeb Drama Center of the American Repertory Theater since the start of the pandemic, and the dynamite tap dancer brought together an ensemble of dancers and musicians for a performance that Globe critic Jeffrey Gantz called it “so rhythmically contagious, you might be tempted to stand up and join them.”
Global Arts Live brought back pioneering dancer / choreographer Raphael Xavier for “XAVIER’S: The Musician & The Mover, “ which highlighted the links between jazz and break. The show featured a live jazz quartet and three dancers, including the choreographer himself, who, according to Gantz, ââ¦ manages to sound like the Baryshnikov of the breakup. Xavier said he wanted to show that as they get older thugs can improve. In ‘The Musician & the Mover’, that’s exactly what he does.
For the Boston premiere of “Path of Miracles”, the innovative San Francisco-based company ODC / Dance gained the privacy of the in-person theater experience at Cambridge’s First Church. The acclaimed immersive dance and music work, evoking a journey of healing and connection inspired by the ancient Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route, featured live music by The Boston Cecilia. Together, they delivered a Gantz experience described as “transcendent”.
And in a special category all its own, how funny it is to see the many “Nutcracker” productions that dot the calendars all over the region? While the glorious version of the Boston Ballet continues to be the gold standard, the fact that smaller, alternative in-person efforts contribute to the season’s offerings is a highlight in itself.
Karen Campbell can be reached at [email protected]