This wasn’t a watershed year for dance in Boston. No star choreographers emerged here in 2011. No outstanding new troupes formed. No internationally renowned ballet companies visited.
And yet it was an almost unimaginably rich year for dance in Boston. From Savion Glover to George Balanchine, we saw every kind of hoofing imaginable. Trisha Brown celebrated her company’s 40th anniversary in town and at Jacob’s Pillow in Becket; Mark Morris celebrated his company’s 30th; Bill T. Jones offered a look at some of his early work. Dance companies came from South Korea, from China, from Spain, from Switzerland, from Cuba, from Brazil. We even got a touring version of the Fox TV show “So You Think You Can Dance’’ - it attracted a host of screaming fans to Agganis Arena.
There was one new player: the first ever Boston International Ballet Competition. Valentina Kozlova, a former principal with the Bolshoi Ballet and New York City Ballet, drew 92 young dancers - ages 13 to 25 - from 23 countries to compete at John Hancock Hall in front of a stellar seven-member jury that included Boston Ballet artistic director Mikko Nissinen, former NYCB principal and Boston Ballet artistic director Violette Verdy, and former Bolshoi star Andris Liepa.
The prizes were generous: cash awards (starting with $9,000 apiece for the best man and woman in the senior division), summer scholarships, company contracts, and opportunities to perform in Moscow and Paris. The sessions ran like clockwork; the presentation was remarkably professional for a debut event. Next year, moreover, the competition will be moving to the Cutler Majestic Theatre, June 12-17.
As for the city’s major dance company, Boston Ballet, it continued to explore new repertoire as it moves toward its 50th anniversary season in 2013-14. There were outstanding performances of two story ballets, John Cranko’s “Romeo and Juliet’’ and Balanchine’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,’’ but the year’s highlights were the evening-long “Elo Experience’’ and Jirí Kylián’s “Bella Figura.’’
“Elo Experience’’ was an ambitious concept: The company’s resident choreographer, Jorma Elo, threaded excerpts from his previous works onto the throughline of a new piece (set to snippets of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1) in which Larissa Ponomarenko and Jeffrey Cirio danced out the story arc of a couple’s relationship. “Elo Experience’’ provided a fitting farewell for Ponomarenko, who retired at the end of the season, after 18 years as one of the company’s best dancers; the piece is not likely to be reprised without her. “Bella Figura’’ is a dreamlike work set to Baroque music in which at one point men and women alike appear bare-breasted; it’s beautiful and troubling and not in the least salacious. The company will present it again in March.
It’s too bad the Celebrity Series no longer brings in the Royal Ballet and the Bolshoi and the Mariinsky: Those companies provided a yardstick by which to measure Boston Ballet’s progress. But by any standard, this is one of the best ballet companies in America.
That wasn’t all the ballet we got to see in 2011. Aspen Santa Fe Ballet brought an enticing program of Elo, Kylián, and Cayetano Soto to the Tsai Performance Center in March and to Jacob’s Pillow in August. Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève opened the Jacob’s Pillow season with Joëlle Bouvier’s “Romeo and Juliet,’’ whose stripped-down setting put the passion and the pain center stage. The group 3e étage, featuring world-class stars from the Paris Opera Ballet, followed in August with the quirky “Disorders.’’ Back in Cambridge, Cuban-born José Mateo celebrated the 25th anniversary of his José Mateo Ballet Theatre with a trio of pieces set to Cuban composers, as well as two repertoire programs of works old and new.
It was a big year for Cuba. Danza Contemporánea de Cuba showcased its depth, range, and stamina in an electrifying performance at the Strand Theatre. DanzAbierta performed against a projected backdrop of Cuban streets and buildings at Jacob’s Pillow. At the Majestic Theatre, the Kings of Salsa gave a master class in salsa as body language - as well as an actual salsa lesson to the audience.
Two Chinese companies made their Boston debuts. Both BeijingDance/LDTX at the Tsai Performance Center and Beijing Dance Company at John Hancock Hall mixed Chinese culture with international influences. Balé Folclórico da Bahia celebrated Brazil’s nature-based Candomblé religion at the Opera House; “Flamenco Algarabía,’’ from Madrid, was an exuberant evening brightened by the trumpet pyrotechnics of Arturo Sandoval.
The home folks weren’t just sitting back and watching. Prometheus Dance served up “Desiderare,’’ the story of seven women in a 19th-century brothel. Lorraine Chapman offered a first draft of her Jerzy Grotowski-inspired “Safe Space.’’ Jody Weber used Jon Turk’s book “The Raven’s Gift’’ to create “Synchronicity and the Sacred Space.’’ August brought the second annual Massachusetts Dance Festival to Boston and Amherst, and also the Beantown Tap Fest. The Dance Complex observed its 20th anniversary in November with a program of works by Margot Parsons, Contrapose Dance, Prometheus Dance, and Dance Complex founder Rozann Kraus.
One of the signal recent trends has been the opening up of new spaces for dance performance. Ten years ago, the Boston Opera House, the Paramount Theatre, and the Modern Theatre had yet to be renovated, and the Arsenal Center for the Arts, the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, and the Barbara Lee Theater at the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston didn’t even exist. The ICA has been a particular friend to Terpsichore, co-sponsoring performances with Summer Stages Dance and World Music/CRASHarts. This fall, it opened the still-running “Dance/Draw’’ exhibition in conjunction with performances by Trisha Brown Dance Company and Trajal Harrell as well as a conversation with choreographer William Forsythe. “If you build it, he will come’’ is the famous watchword from the 1989 film “Field of Dreams.’’ Boston has built it, and now the dance is coming.
JEFFREY GANTZ’S PICKS
■BOSTON BALLET “ELO EXPERIENCE’’ and “BELLA FIGURA’’ at the Boston Opera House
■SAVION GLOVER presented by the Celebrity Series of Boston and World Music/CRASHarts at the Boston Opera House
■DOUG VARONE AND DANCERS presented by World Music/CRASHarts at the Institute of Contemporary Art
■ASPEN SANTA FE BALLET presented by the Celebrity Series of Boston at the Tsai Performance Center
■DANZA CONTEMPORÁNEA DE CUBA at the Strand Theatre
■KIDD PIVOT FRANKFURT RM at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival
■DANZABIERTA at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival
■3E ÉTAGE at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival
■ASZURE BARTON presented by the Celebrity Series of Boston at the Tsai Performance Center
■TRISHA BROWN DANCE COMPANY at the Institute of Contemporary Art
Globe correspondents Karen Campbell, Janine Parker, and Thea Singer contributed.