In the world dance, 2011 was a pretty tame year. Very few concerts blew me out of the water, which is not to dismiss the many choreographies of worth.
With the world seeming to decay around us both economically and environmentally, choreographers tended to retreat into themselves, explore abstract topics, or dissect relationships. Here are the winners (and losers) of the very subjective Paula Citron Dance Awards for 2011, in alphabetical order.
Best Bodies in Space Award: England's Wayne McGregor, for Entity, which toured to Montreal, Ottawa and Kingston, Ont., and in which imaginative combinations of bodies translated into magnificent, complex and intriguing choreographic patterns.
Best Dance Initiative Award: Toronto's Matthew Jocelyn, artistic director of Canadian Stage, for including two sophisticated Italian dance companies – Compagnia Virgilio Sieni and Compagnie Caterina & Carlotta Sagna – as part of the Spotlight On Italy mini-festival in March.
Best Homecoming Award: The summer Festival des Arts de Saint-Sauveur in Quebec presented Montreal-born, Germany-based Eric Gauthier and his company Gauthier Dance/Theaterhaus Stuttgart in Lucky Seven, a wonderful contemporary ballet piece of seven vignettes, each choreographed by a top-of-the-line European choreographer.
Classiest Dance in the West Award: Vancouver's Rob Kitsos and his droll and compelling quartet Barego, a hit at the Dancing on the Edge Festival in July, that explored how "bar" and "ego" impact each other at a favourite watering hole.
Encouragement for New Direction Award: Toronto's Little Pear Garden Collective, for departing from Beijing opera to create the moving, contemporary dance theatre Bitter Tea, based on the life of Chinese silent-movie star Ruan Lingyu, with joint choreography by Jeffrey Chan and China's Jack Shi.
Full of Sound and Fury, a.k.a. Smoke and Mirrors Award: In his new work, Untitled, Montreal's Edouard Lock created stunning, complex choreography, but the dazzle hid a paucity of themes or ideas. Meanwhile, New Yorker Twyla Tharp's flash and dash in Come Fly Away,at Toronto's Four Seasons Centre in August, couldn't conceal weak, repetitious choreography, and poorly formed characters.
He Blew Me Out of the Water Award: Turkish-born Ziya Azazi at Toronto's CanAsian International Dance Festival for Dervish in Progress, in February, which transformed Sufi traditional dance into a sexy and exciting experience.
So Bad It's Good Award: Seville's Israel Galvan at the Festival TransAmériques in Montreal this summer. His Apocalypse-themed El Final de Este Estado de Cosas, Redux captivated with its pretensions and inanities.
Look Ma, No Feet! Award: Performance artist Stephen Thompson was a highlight at Calgary's Fluid Movement Arts Festival in October, with his hilarious Etude: arms (gauche/droite). His talented fingers depicted a cancan line, two rap singers, and a corps de ballet, among other witty digital images.
Most Fertile Brain Award: Michael Trent, artistic director of Toronto's Dancemakers, for coming up with interesting concepts such as 3/2/1, a trio, duet and solo choreographed by three different choreographers, with the company members rotating through six parts.
Most Important New Festival Award: Bringing summer dance back to Toronto was the mini-festival made in canada/fait au canada, with a great trans-Canada lineup curated by Peggy Baker, James Kudelka and festival co-founder Yvonne Ng. Outstanding performances came from Keiko Ninomiya and Sylvie Bouchard.
Museum Piece Award: St. Petersburg's Kirov/Mariinsky Ballet, for Russian Imperial style; New York's Paul Taylor and Toronto's Heritage Dance, for modern-dance purity.
National Treasure Award: Edmonton's Ukrainian Shumka Dancers, and their show Shumka at 50, a cunning combination of spectacle and virtuoso dance.
Rabbit Out of the Hat Award: Ballet BC's artistic director Emily Molnar, for bringing the Vancouver company back from bankruptcy with a hard-edged contemporary-dance repertoire.
She Made Me Cry Award: Montreal's Jocelyne Montpetit at Toronto's CanAsian International Dance Festival, for Nuit, Nacht, Notte, her haunting butoh homage to her late Japanese master, Kazuo Ohno.
Still One of the Greats Award: James Kudelka, for the fascinating AllOneWord: The "See" Series, performed by Toronto's Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie, with each vignette, about seeing or being seen, choreographed to the same piece of music, Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber's Guardian Angel passacaglia.
Were They in the Same Ballpark? Award: Toronto's ninth international competition for the Erik Bruhn Prize, where the judges chose three completely different winners (for best male and female dancer, and choreographer) from those who garnered the Audience Choice awards.
Young College Try Award: Despite amateurish qualities, Toronto hip-hop artists are branching out into dance theatre. Most notable were Baby Boyz Dance Group's Three Boyz, Three Countries & One Dream; and Enter the Shadow by b-boys Lee Pham and Jon Reid.
PAULA'S PICKS OF BEST PERFORMERS
Each in their own way, these stars of the dance world stood out as the very best of 2011
Breakout Performance: Gadfly's Klorofyl
Better known as urban dance artists under the co-direction of former Montrealers Ofilio Portillo and Apolonia Velasquez, Toronto-based Gadfly transformed itself into a first-class contemporary dance company with Klorofyl, inspired by the Japanese classic movie The Seven Samurai. The dancers began as burnt-out warriors, before gradually bonding as a fierce tribe in an effort to survive.
Under the Radar Gem: EXpose
The April twinning of choreographers Alvin Erasga Tolentino and Martin Inthamoussú (the first from Vancouver and of Filipino background; the second a Uruguayan who spends part of each year working in Germany) was a match made in heaven. Their delightful EXpose in Vancouver was a coming-out celebration of both homosexuality and gender politics, told through a droll series of images. The ending, with the men in formalwear with red stiletto heels, was brilliantly funny and poignant.
Choreographer of the Year: Mi Young Kim
Kim celebrated 60 years as a professional dancer in 2011, and she deserved every tribute that came her way. She almost single-handedly established Korean dance in her new homeland through her Korean Dance Studies Society of Canada and the Mi Young Kim Dance Company. She also encourages ethnic diversity through the biennial, multicultural Soo Ryu Dance Festival.
World-beating Company of the Year: National Ballet of Canada
How smart is artistic director Karen Kain? Delivering two original superhits by red-hot choreographers – Christopher Wheeldon's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Alexei Ratmansky's Romeo and Juliet –in the same calendar year was an incredible feat. Not only were both shows box-office champions; they have opened the door to international touring. Now the National, ballet's best-kept secret, will get the worldwide profile it deserves.