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Dance in 2008 demonstrated how insular the art form is becoming. With touring money drying up, most choreographers, particularly the independent ones, are confined to performing in their home cities. Only a very lucky few made it out - either by being presented in festivals or on dance series. Some brave hearts found ways of self-producing away from home but probably maxed out their credit cards to do it.

This is a huge country, and dance loses when there is virtually no stimulating interchange of ideas. It's an art form that should not exist in a vacuum. I worry that dance in Canada is becoming a series of many solitudes.

What follows are the Paula Citron Dance Awards for 2008 (in no particular order) from one dance writer's purely subjective viewpoint:

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Best celebration Premiere Dance Theatre 25th Anniversary (Toronto) presented the profoundly moving production From the Horse's Mouth. See sidebar.

Most chutzpah At just 21, Josh Beamish (Vancouver) has ambitious plans for his MOVE: the company. He organized his own cross-Canada tour for his refreshing Trap Door Party, a cunning mix of every known dance style extant.

Best adaptation The National Ballet of Canada presented John Neumeier's The Seagull (Toronto), a brilliant danced version of the Chekhov play.

Most dazzling Canadian debut Spanish sensation Mercedes Ruiz and her show Junca was marked by a breathtaking mix of passion, drama and speed. See sidebar.

Most heartfelt (two winners) Peter Chin's Transmission of the Invisible (Harbourfront World Stage, Toronto) used three Canadian dancers and two Cambodian dancers in a tribute to the art form as a universal language. Angola Murdoch's Twist of Fate (Toronto) described her childhood battle with scoliosis through gymnastics, aerial acrobatics and modern dance.

Most underappreciated (two winners) Toronto's black companies Ballet Creole and COBA produce solid choreography and well-schooled dancers. They should be touring the country.

Most misunderstood Christopher House of Toronto Dance Theatre dares to be different, and his new show Dis/(sol/ve)r looked so simple on the surface that many people missed its intricate inner workings.

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Most provocative New York choreographer Bill T. Jones's Chapel/Chapter (Harbourfront World Stage, Toronto) depicted two horrendous murders and a suicide to make the statement that humankind must take responsibility for both the good and evil that happens in society.

Most shallow but showy African Footprint (Toronto) was the South African version of Riverdance that turned dance of the people into commercial pap, and lost its soul en route.

Best visual impact Is You Me (Festival TransAmériques, Montreal) was a collaboration by Montreal dancer/choreographers Benoît Lachambre and Louise Lecavalier with French visual artist Laurent Goldring. See sidebar.

Hottest male eye candy (two winners) Neil Ieremia's Black Grace from New Zealand (Harbourfront World Stage, Toronto; National Arts Centre, Ottawa) featured high octane, explosive physicality performed by an uncommonly good-looking group of men. Similarly, Robert Glumbek of ProArteDanza (Toronto) fused ballet and modern dance in Re-Collections, an intense physical workout for five male dancers who acted out boys growing into men.

Let's hear it for the female power New York-based Aszure Barton, Vancouver's Crystal Pite and Calgary's Denise Clarke had works performed all over the country this season as well as Ottawa's Canada Dance Festival. Barton's droll and bravura movement, Pite's intellectual whimsy and Clarke's insightful dance-theatre gild the lily of Canadian women choreographers.

Most emotionally stunning Rami Be'er's Ekodoom performed by Israel's Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company was an epic journey to the gates of hell through images of man-made devastation. See sidebar.

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Following her own pathway Lucie Carmen Grégoire flies in the face of Montreal's heavily laden, pro-European aesthetic. Her new quartet Ôs (which she premiered in Toronto) is a charming bit of whimsy from a city that forgot it has a sense of humour.

Most tedious Eurotrash American-born dance icon Meg Stuart and Austrian-born Philipp Gehmacher created the crushingly dreary Maybe Forever (Festival TransAmériques, Montreal) performed to live music by talentless Belgian guitarist/singer Niko Hafkenscheid. Two lovers who were never in the same emotional place at the same time was rendered as sophomoric tripe.

Most elevated use of nudity (two winners) Not surprisingly, these companies come out of the nude-friendly city of Montreal and are making the rounds of festivals and series. For both Daniel Léveillé's La pudeur des icebergs and Dave St-Pierre's La pornographie des âmes, the naked body reveals humankind at our most vulnerable.

Most fearless change of direction Malgorzata Nowacka's The Hidden Spot (Toronto) is the grown-up sister to the violent anger of her urban, streetwise earlier works. Using a more muted and thoughtful choreographic language, she explored searching for personal faith in a faithless age.

Most cerebral Denmark's Kitt Johnson and her solo Rankefod (Harbourfront World Stage, Toronto) was a fascinating study of the ascent of humankind from the primeval slime to homo erectus. See sidebar.

I can't wait for it Vancouver's Lola MacLaughlin premiered an excerpt from Princess, Infanta, Queen (Dancing on the Edge Festival, Vancouver) performed by the magnificent Susan Elliott that was a fascinating portrait of boredom, resignation, frustration, desire and anger all at the same time.

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Best site specific It/Out/In (Newfoundland Festival of New Dance, St. John's) featured St. John's Alicia Grant and Toronto's Cara Spooner in various eateries. The women began as ordinary customers and then stood on their chairs with their body language cleverly conveying all the habitual traits we display in restaurants.

Best old master Serge Bennathan showed he still has the goods in his evocative and atmospheric Samarcande, inspired by the fabled Silk Road city and beautifully danced by Winnipeg's Contemporary Dancers.

Ailey bad and Ailey good New York's Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (Toronto) is living on its reputation with repertoire performed as paint by numbers, albeit by fabulous dancers. In contrast was daughter of Ailey, Denver's Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Company (Dance Immersion, Toronto), whose dancers performed works by black choreographers Katherine Dunham, Milton Myers, Theo Jamison, Robinson and Ailey like a joyous celebration.

Most sophisticated Les Grands Ballets Canadiens' Evening with Ohad Naharin (Montreal, Ottawa, Quebec City) presented works by the Israeli choreographer containing his usual mix of the unpredictable and the mundane that demanded an intelligent and imaginative response on the part of the audience.

Hip hop as art (two winners) In another Montreal-dominated category, Rubberbandance Group under Victor Quijada and Anne Plamondon, and Solid State under Helen Simard and Jo Dee Allen showed up in festivals and dance series across the country. The former cleverly combines droll hip hop/ballet with classical music. The latter slyly fuses hip hop with social dance.

Most in-depth experience New York-based legendary choreographer Mark Morris presented three different evenings of his works (Luminato Festival, Toronto), all new to Canada, which demonstrated his immense dance skills in interpreting music into movement.

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Saddest good-bye In the defiant celebration-cum-installation called Vanishing Acts: The Odyssey and Audacity of Danny Grossman & Company (Toronto), the venerable choreographer said farewell to his company. Grossman may have lost his funding, but he made his exit unbowed.

*****

You had to be there: best events of 2008

Ekodoom (Festival des Arts de Saint-Sauveur, Quebec) Israel's Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company presented the North American premiere of Rami Be'er's harrowing work where allusions to armies marching, violent personal conflicts and victimization of the innocent conveyed a tangled web of human misery. The intent of Be'er's powerful and forceful choreography was to expose a damaged world of man-made destruction and devastation. The stunning soundtrack of harsh German new-wave punk rock and droning electronica propelled the dance.

From the Horse's Mouth (Premiere Dance Theatre 25th Anniversary, Toronto) Conceived and mounted by New York dance artists Tina Croll and Jamie Cunningham (a former Canadian), the duo created the show out of the personal stories, signature dance movements and improvisations of 25 choreographer/dancers who had appeared at the theatre over the years. The result was a living history of Toronto dance and the artistic richness of lives lived.

Is You Me (Festival TransAmériques, Montreal) This collaboration by Montreal's Benoît Lachambre and Louise Lecavalier with French visual artist Laurent Goldring was filled with breathtaking images. The dancers took turns performing their undulating, convulsive movements up, down and along the rim of Goldring's white curved screen fronted by a white steep ramp until one lost track of who was performing. Using an overhead projection, Goldring created the lighting and decor as the show progressed.

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Junca (Toronto International Flamenco Festival) The imperially slim, 29-year-old Spanish sensation Mercedes Ruiz brought with her two dancers, three singers, two guitarists, one percussionist, a pianist and some gorgeous costume changes for her exciting Canadian debut. Her show Junca was a tribute to her home town Jerez, the heartland of flamenco. Ruiz's incredibly intricate and rapid footwork was balanced by sensuous and erotic adagio.

Rankefod (Harbourfront Worldstage, Toronto) Denmark's astonishing 49-years-old Kitt Johnson created an exquisite solo that explored the origin of the species. The Danish word rankefod means small marine crustaceans. Bare-breasted, clad in a loin cloth and painted white, Johnson began with the faintest impulse of life, the rankefod, that became the catalyst that triggered a mesmerizing journey of evolution. Startling zoological specimens arose out of Johnson's tightly controlled muscles and limbs.

P.C.

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