For me, a great work of art must somehow ask a question of the form in which it's realized. When that form is dance, the questions are, necessarily, a bit intimate. What is a moving body uniquely able to express about loss, desire, rage, sensuality, joy – all the vital human stuff? Here are five shows from 2015 that asked (and answered) some questions.
1. Betroffenheit – Electric Company Theatre and Kidd Pivot, Panamania
There are those who have seen Betroffenheit and those who need to. This dance-theatre work, a staggering externalization of loss, trauma and addiction, ran for only three nights at Toronto's Panamania in July. It is not for the faint of heart. I walked away imagining people leaving Munich's National Theatre in the mid-1800s, their lives ecstatically darker after hearing Wagner for the first time. The experience feels that historical; the effect is that relentless; the dancing is that good. Betroffenheit is touring Canada and the United States in 2016. Get your tickets.
2. Shostakovich Trilogy, Parts 1 & 3 – Alexei Ratmansky, the National Ballet of Canada
I think Alexei Ratmansky is one of the most exciting choreographers working in ballet because he makes classical technique look innovative. This is partly due to his remarkable musicality – I sometimes wonder if the man can actually see music. He puts this synaesthesic talent to ingenious use with Shostakovich's Symphony No. 9 and Piano Concerto No. 1. Using fast, intricate choreography in lieu of linear narrative, Ratmansky brings a special pathos to his depiction of the Soviet dream/nightmare. It's intensely thrilling to witness – like watching the USSR rise and fall in 40 minutes.
3. Me So You So Me – Out Innerspace Dance Theatre, World Stage Festival and national tour
What I remember most about this weird and moving duet is a sequence in which the dancers are tossed, as though shipwrecked, flat onto their stomachs, before the light shifts, the waves crash and they weep into the sand. Me So You So Me uses a radical range of movement, sound and video projection to evoke the bizarreness that is human love. As performers, Tiffany Tregarthen and David Raymond are dexterous and captivating – Tregarthen shifts seamlessly from aggressive clownishness into quiet, desperate sadness. I saw this two nights in a row.
4. I'll Crane for You – Christopher House/Deborah Hay, Toronto Dance Theatre
If I needed any reminder that dance requires neither music nor formal choreography to be fascinating, and to tell us things about our lives, then I got it at Toronto's Winchester Street Theatre in January. Veteran dancer/choreographer Christopher House appeared under house lights in a red wrestling singlet and sneakers and proceeded to move and mutter, virtually non-stop, for about an hour. Hay's choreography relies on a series of questions instead of steps – I'll Crane for You was watching a brilliant artist submit to all the strange compulsions of his imagination.
5. Three Muses – Belinda McGuire/TOES for Dance Festival, Toronto
Every now and then, I see a dancer whose beauty, presence and intensity reminds me of why dance has been the inescapable throughline of my life. It doesn't hurt when this performance takes place in a tiny black-box theatre, so that I can see every step up close, the details of the dancer's expression and musculature. McGuire danced four solos in an hour, with nods to Gaga technique and her work/training in Limon. She is fiery and wild, even creaturely in moments, and was especially impressive in Sharon B. Moore's theatrical, 23-minute Anthem for the Living.