The top 10 dance shows of 2017

Sgt Pepper strutted, Boris Charmatz gave us a buttock-scratching beauty and three men became Lady Macbeth – our critic picks the best dance of the year

10. Requardt & Rosenberg: Dead Club (The Place, London)

Dead Club presented by the Place and Fuel Theatre.
Dead Club presented by the Place and Fuel Theatre. Photograph: Camilla Greenwell

Frauke Requardt and David Rosenberg channelled Edgar Allan Poe, David Lynch and Lewis Carroll in a production that was part surreal cabaret, part funeral, part end-of-the-world party. While the five performers danced and talked their way through a meditation on death, identify and memory, their surroundings became ghoulishly bizarre as dead crows dropped through the ceiling and a deer’s carcass appeared through a trapdoor.

9. Dorrance Dance: ETM – Double Down (Sadler’s Wells, London)

A scene from ETM: Double Down by Dorrance Dance.
ETM: Double Down by Dorrance Dance. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/the Guardian

One of the few female choreographers in the world of tap, Michelle Dorrance has transcended the conventional limits of the form – choreographing in an expressive, full-bodied style that’s more associated with contemporary dance. For her show ETM – Double Down she created a witty playground of sonic possibilities using electronic tap boards to trigger a computerised musical score, whose melodies wove a witty accompaniment to the beats, growls and glissando slides of the dancers’ footwork.

8. Company Chordelia: Lady Macbeth (Dance Base, Edinburgh)

Company Chordelia in Lady Macbeth: Unsex Me Here.
Company Chordelia in Lady Macbeth: Unsex Me Here. Photograph: Jane Hobson

Kally Lloyd-Jones’ hauntingly revisionist work asked what kind of play Shakespeare might have written if Lady Macbeth, rather than Macbeth himself, had been its key character. With her titular heroine portrayed by three male dancers, Lloyd-Jones used a fusion of martial arts, sign language and contemporary dance to explore the violent ambition and self-disgust that warred for the soul of her Lady Macbeth. She also fascinatingly posited the back story of a dead baby and maternal grief to explain her heroine’s hell-bent quest for power.

7. Kyle Abraham: Pavement (Sadler’s Wells, London)

Pavement by Kyle Abraham.
Pavement by Kyle Abraham. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/the Guardian

Abraham ranks as one of the most socially acute and inclusive voices in the American dance scene. His signature work Pavement draws on his own childhood in Pittsburgh and the LA gang drama Boyz N the Hood, yet expands those sources into a tenderly resonant portrait of young people living on the margins of society. Using music that ranged from Bach to Sam Cooke, referencing movement from ballet, contemporary dance and the street, Abraham’s beguiling work combined technical sophistication with a beautifully observed humanity.

6. Lucinda Childs: Available Light (Palace theatre, Manchester)

Available Light by Lucinda Childs.
Available Light by Lucinda Childs. Photograph: Joel Chester Fildes

With Manchester international festival’s revival of this 1983 classic we were given a masterclass in the emotional potency of minimalism – the great Lucinda Childs demonstrating how choreographic stringency can spiral into realms of otherworldly beauty. Set on a split level stage, an austere industrial space designed by Frank Gehry, the work’s deceptively spare components gathered into patterns of entrancing complexity, shifting, glittering and swirling in response to the colours of John Adams’s accompanying score, Light Over Water.

5. Ben Duke: Goat (Sadler’s Wells, London, and UK tour)

Liam Francis and Hannah Rudd in Goat by Rambert.
Goat by Rambert. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/the Guardian

Duke’s raw, funny, searing new work was a bold commission for Rambert, introducing both cast and audience to a style of anarchic, deconstructed physical theatre not usually associated with Britain’s oldest dance company. With the excellent singer Nia Lynn rocking through a set of Nina Simone tracks, Duke moved his own material from a wickedly comic satire on the emotional cliches of dance into a profoundly questioning meditation on what authenticity in performance actually means.

4. Mark Morris: Pepperland (Royal Court, Liverpool)

Mark Morris Group in Pepperland.
Mark Morris Group in Pepperland. Photograph: Robbie Jack

With Mark Morris, it always starts with the music. In creating this celebratory work for Liverpool’s Sgt Pepper at 50 festival the American choreographer worked with six boldly idiosyncratic reinventions of the Beatles’ songs, including a wonderfully arthritic version of When I’m Sixty-Four. With his 15 dancers dressed in a fusion of Carnaby Street and Woodstock, Morris had a choreographic ball, interpreting the world of Pepper through a nostalgic mix of disco, jive and free-form hippiness.

3. Royal Ballet: All Ashton Programme (Royal Opera House, London)

Zenaida Yanowsky (Marguerite) and Roberto Bolle (Armand) in Marguerite and Armand from The Ashton Triple Bill by The Royal Ballet.
Zenaida Yanowsky in Marguerite and Armand by The Royal Ballet. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/the Guardian

Ashton’s ballets are fragile period pieces, yet while their style can feel at odds with today’s linear athleticism they can also draw illuminating performances from their dancers. In the summer’s revival of The Dream, Francesca Hayward’s Titania was a miracle of lightness and velocity, every phrase shaped by an interior music. In the same programme Zenaida Yanowsky danced out her last season with the Royal with a heart-wrenchingly vulnerable and nuanced performance in Marguerite and Armand.

2. Lyon Opera Ballet: Trois Grandes Fugues (Sadler’s Wells, London)

Lyon Opera Ballet in Trois Grandes Fugues.
Lyon Opera Ballet in Trois Grandes Fugues. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/the Guardian

Courtesy of Dance Umbrella, London got to see this inspired and uncompromising programme in which Beethoven’s 1825 Grosse Fuge was interpreted three ways, by the outstanding trio of Lucinda Childs, Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker and Maguy Marin. Moving and challenging as a musical experience, exhilarating in its choreographic range, this triple bill was above all a testament to the power and integrity of pure dance. No theatrical frills, no expensive design, just bodies engaged in a passionately intelligent dialogue with music.

1. Boris Charmatz: 10,000 Gestures (Mayfield Depot, Manchester)

A scene from 10,000 Gestures by Boris Charmatz.
A scene from 10,000 Gestures by Boris Charmatz. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/the Guardian

Boris Charmatz’s new work was neither the most technically accomplished I saw this year nor the most choreographically achieved. Sections of it were even a little dull. Yet the audacity of its concept, the theatricality of the venue and the acuity with which it captured our skittering, anxious zeitgeist, made 10,000 Gestures a singular experience.

The logic was all in the title. Charmatz created it out of literally 10,000 gestures, none of which were repeated over the course of the hour-long work. The French choreographer was curious to test how much of a dance his audience could absorb when there was no choreographic pattern or repetition to hang on to. But there was a powerful emotional kick to the experiment, too.

Charmatz allowed every kind of gesture to invade his palette, from a precisely executed classical pirouette to an idle scratching of a buttock to a howling, thrashing convulsion of pain. A whole world of human movement was unleashed on to the stage, and the 25 dancers looked variously raging, funny and very fragile.

The astonishing scale of the venue, a cavernous semi-derelict train depot, heightened their vulnerability. If the dancers were sometimes crowded too close to us for comfort at others they were dispersed to the far edges where they become wavering, indistinct – barely tethered to the space.

Equally effective was the choice of music – Mozart’s Requiem – which invested the dance with a haunting sense of mortality. 10,000 gestures may have started as a dance boffin’s conceit but at its surprisingly magisterial best, it became a meditation about life, loss, randomness and death.


Contributor

Judith Mackrell

The GuardianTramp

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