Every year the ballet.co end of year poll comes around, and each time I find it more and more difficult to complete. I dither: I make lists: I change my mind and change it back again. How can I have only one favourite female dancer ? Or only one best newcomer ? Eventually I give up, vote, and then change my mind again. So this year, I decided I’d come up with some different categories, just for me. So here is what was memorable for me, one way and another, in 2001.
The performance I wished I’d seen and didn’t: this has to be the farewell gala for Anthony Dowell in May. A great pity that this was priced for the corporate market only, and that the 1000 pound asking price eliminated many dance fans who would loved to have been there. An insensitive move from the ROH which laid them open once again to charges of elitism. A pity too, since it does seem to have been a real occasion, whereas some of the other galas this year (ENB’s 50th anniversary, Rambert’s 75th) were much more low key affairs.
Weirdest experience of the year: no, not anything experimental involving nudity, film, white noise or flashing lights, or even recordings of ventriloquism lessons. The strangest experience was watching the Kirov dance Manon, with all the tarts danced as if they were Duchesses. And dressed in white. Utterly strange, it drained the viciousness and nastiness out of the story, and seemed completely at odds with MacMillan. After this I felt much more sympathetic to Balanchine fans who purse their lips and shake their heads over the Royal’s attempts at Balanchine.
Mystic experience of the year: Lopatkina in Swan Lake. She was lost somewhere inside some mysterious, spiritual experience, which she never quite shared with the audience. Awesome, all the same.
Most gripping performance: DNB in Van Manen’s Live. The foyers of Sadler’s Wells will never seem to same again after watching Sabine Chaland dancing there. We had lots of interesting visitors this year – Houston, DNB, Cullberg, Mark Morris, Kirov, La Scala, San Franscico Ballet, NYCB (in Edinburgh) Ballett Frankfurt. Van Manen’s Live was still the single most memorable and absorbing of any of these lot for me.
Most consistently interesting new work: Mark Morris. The quality of his output remains remarkably high, considering how fertile he is. V at Sadler’s Wells was another striking new work, too brimful of ideas to get a hold of at a single sitting. And we got to see SFB’s lovable Sandpaper Ballet again this year, too.
Venue of the year: the Linbury / Clore Studio at the ROH. More interesting than the stuff on the main stage a lot of the time. More please. Give Deborah Bull a bigger budget and more dance time on the stage, please – the Linbury is still dominated by music rather than dance.
Canniest programming choices: George Piper Dances for getting hold of Russell Maliphant’s Critical Mass. Brilliant choice. It works superbly well for Nunn and Trevitt, who ought to be nominated as partnership of the year.
Most ambitious programming of the year: San Francisco Ballet with a massive selection of works – more in a week than in a season from the Royal. Not all of it was terrific, but you could luxuriate in the choice.
Best curtain call of the year: the guy who is the Living National Treasure of the Kabuki company which came to Sadler’s in June. Still remaining in character as the charming 16 year old girl at the curtain call, this venerable old gentleman fluttered most exquisitely – oh ! Really ! you are so kind ! I am so honoured ! It was a performance in itself.
Artistic Director of the Year: I’m not sure there is one, though I wish there was. A year of massive change on the management front in almost all the British companies – NBT, ENB, the Royal, Scottish and now Rambert. Other dance companies are also having a rather quiet time of it, with both Siobhan Davies and DV8 taking time out. There isn’t much to be cheerful about. David Bintley remains in Birmingham, going his own way, but even BRB are not without their financial woes, and the retirement of some principals made the company appear weaker at Sadler’s this year. Who would be an AD ? Every dance fan can tell you in detail how they could do your job better than you, and everything is always your fault. It’s like being a football manager – but without the sort of salary they get. Let’s hope things settle down in 2002.
Most unlikely success of the Year: Arc Dance Company taking on Dostoyesvsky. No really. A version of The Idiot with only three dancers ? It doesn’t sound particularly plausible. But this was a very simple, short, deeply compressed character study of three protagonists and their rather tortured interaction with one another: a few fragmentary incidents not a narrative. Particularly intense and stunning performance from Joanne Fong, with Lee Boggess and Karl Sullivan.
Crisis of the year: Scottish Ballet and the plans to turn it into a ‘contemporary’ company. An unhappy saga with no end in sight.
Most interesting score: there’s been a lot of opinions for and against Guillem’s Giselle for La Scala, but Guillem’s careful restoration of the score – adding back many cuts that have been made – was remarkable, and the result sounded fresh and wholly convincing. Fascinating to see what can be achieved here with a score you thought you knew.
Goodbye to: lots of dancers, sadly. I really hope I see Sarah Wildor again. I never caught her in Manon while she was with the Royal, only the sultry pas de deux she did in summer with Bolle. Pity.