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Critic: Mae G. Banner

Fusion was the overriding impulse that drove choreography in 2003. Sometimes, it worked marvelously, as in George Piper Dances’ (aka Ballet Boyz) risky, visceral brew of edgy modern dance and classical ballet, seen in October at the Egg; or in Akram Khan’s amazing meld of modern with classical North Indian Kathak, a U.S. premiere shown in August at Jacob’s Pillow.

Both the Ballet Boyz and Khan’s troupe are based in London. Does that mean innovation is healthier across the Atlantic? Not necessarily. New York City-based companies drew on their international roots in the three-pronged merger of rural Southern, Trinidadian and West African dance in Reggie Wilson’s Black Burlesque Revisited (The Egg, Oct. 18) or Flamenco Vivo Carlota Santana’s bullfighter ballet, Mano a Mano (The Egg, Nov. 15).

We benefit from proximity to New York, which remains the dance capital of the world. Troupes from Wilson’s Fist and Heel to the Martha Graham Dance Company tried out new shows at the Egg before presenting them in the big city, so we felt the souped-up energy of several premier performances.

Ten of the year’s best shows from an exceptional dance calendar:

Best of 2003

1. Martha Graham Dance Company
The Egg, Sept. 12

A double thrill. This was the reconstituted company’s first concert since it won legal rights to perform the late Graham’s magisterial repertory after a three-year court battle with her sole heir. Couple that victory with the thrill of seeing today’s Graham dancers re-create her Chronicles from the 1930s—a stark antiwar dance shaped like a Russian constructivist poster.

2. Hubbard Street Dance Chicago
Proctor’s Theatre, March 7; Jacob’s Pillow, Aug. 23

Now directed by Jim Vincent, this supple troupe has come a long way from its jazz-pop origins. At both venues, the company danced lambent works by former Vincent colleagues, Jiri Kilian of the Netherlands and Nacho Duato of Spain. But the best was their rousing delivery of Minus 16, part Passover counting song, part defiant searchlight on Auschwitz, choreographed by Israel’s Ohad Naharin.

3. Compania Nacional de Danza (CND2): Dances by Nacho Duato
Jacob’s Pillow, July 27

Duato’s many-hued choreography set to music of Villa-Lobos or Debussy can be fierce, tender, or quirky, but is always unusual and beautiful.

4. George Piper Dances (Ballet Boyz)
The Egg, Oct. 30

Happy defectors from the Royal Ballet in Britain, these good-humored hunks and their international troupe are now branching out into daring, rule-breaking dances by rising choreographers, including New York City Ballet’s Christopher Wheeldon and American exile William Forsythe. Free-flying dances based on solid ballet technique.

5. Akram Khan Dance Company
Jacob’s Pillow, Aug. 17

A Brit of Bangladeshi heritage, Khan’s U.S. debut was Kaash (If), a knife-edged minimalist work that refined the warp-speed and intricate gestures of Kathak dancing in a cauldron of contemporary sensibility.

6. Megan Fairchild as Coppelia, New York City Ballet
Saratoga Performing Arts Center, July 22-25

Only 19 years old and a corps dancer, Fairchild has the charm of a soubrette, the stamina of a long-distance runner, and the understanding of a seasoned actor. Going on for the injured principal dancer Alexandra Ansanelli, Fairchild nailed the demanding role (she’s onstage in all three acts) and then did it again for three more performances. Brava!

7. Savion Glover and Ti Di
The Egg, Sept. 26

His feet are his instrument, and he’s now playing Coltrane with a live jazz combo. For those who thought tap was all “shuffle and roll,” Glover’s work is an education in jazz.

8. Sara Pearson/Patrik Widrig and Company, The Return of Lot’s Wife
Skidmore College Dance Theater, Feb. 7

The silenced woman as suburban housewife. Satirical and provocative dance theater, with rivers of salt.

9. Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company
The Egg, April 12

Sinopoli’s troupe celebrated the Egg’s 25th anniversary with a collaborative concert showcasing live musicians from Siobhan Quinn to Maria Zemantauski that was a fusion of fans as well as forms.

10. Flamenco Vivo Carlota Santana
The Egg, Nov. 15

Mano a Mano employs flamenco spirit in the service of narrative ballet to dramatize the rise and too-early fall of the legendary torero Manolete. Hemingway would approve.

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