Theater & art

Boston’s year in dance

From left: Boston Ballet dancers Whitney Jensen, Rachel Cossar, and Sara Wroth in Jorma Elo’s “Awake Only” at the Boston Opera House.
Essdras M Suarez/ Globe Staff
From left: Boston Ballet dancers Whitney Jensen, Rachel Cossar, and Sara Wroth in Jorma Elo’s “Awake Only” at the Boston Opera House.

In 2012, Boston gained a new “Nutcracker” and lost a ballet competition. That was the high and the low of a dance year that saw distinguished visitors like Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Mark Morris Dance Group but also had milestones from local heroes, with Green Street Studios celebrating its 20th anniversary and José Mateo Ballet Theatre presenting its 25th annual “Nutcracker.”

The new “Nutcracker” belonged to Boston Ballet. The company’s previous sets and costumes had been designed for the Wang Theatre rather than the Opera House, where Boston Ballet now performs, and they were wearing out after 17 years. So artistic director Mikko Nissinen decided it was time for a new production. This was a bit of a gamble: the old “Nutcracker” had been a beloved holiday tradition, as well as providing the lion’s share of the company’s annual box office.

But the new production proved a success. Nissinen and designer Robert Perdziola moved the time frame from the 1840s back to around 1820, the period of the E.T.A. Hoffmann story, “Nutcracker and Mouse King,” that inspired the ballet. Perdziola’s Empire-waisted gowns were more flattering to the first-act party ladies; his costumes for the second-act divertissements were muted in color but fabulously detailed and bejeweled. There were three new sets: a grand ballroom for the party, a birch forest for the snow scene, and a Louis XIV–inspired palace for the Nutcracker Prince. And Nissinen reworked the first act to make the story line simpler and clearer. This “Nutcracker” is off to a good start.


The Boston International Ballet Competition, whose second edition took place at the Cutler Majestic Theatre in June, seemed to have laid a firm foundation as well. In October, however, the event’s founder, former Bolshoi Ballet and New York City Ballet principal Valentina Kozlova, announced that she was renaming it the Valentina Kozlova International Ballet Competition and moving it to New York, where her dance school is located. She cited the financial strain of bringing all her people to Boston from New York and the event’s failure to attract an audience. It’s unfortunate: The jury was prestigious, the prizes were generous, and the 90 or so talented contestants each year came from around the world. What the competition really needed, and what Kozlova couldn’t give it, was a local base.

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Apart from “The Nutcracker,” Boston Ballet had a solid 2012. Its offerings ranged from Michel Fokine’s Chopin classic “Les Sylphides” (part of its “Simply Sublime” program, with Christopher Wheeldon’s “Polyphonia” and George Balanchine’s “Symphony in Three Movements”) to Christopher Bruce’s Rolling Stones-set “Rooster” (on the “Fall Program” with William Forsythe’s “The Second Detail” and Jorma Elo’s “Awake Only”). The lone story ballet, “Don Quixote,” featured a courtly, romantic Carlos Molina in the title role. Elo, the company’s resident choreographer, updated — and improved — his 2002 piece “Sharp Side of Dark,” turning it into “Sharper Side of Dark.” In his world premiere “Awake Only” (which, like “Sharper Side of Dark,” is set to Bach) he seemed to be reconnecting with his childhood self. The Boston Ballet School student Liam Lurker, who played the pajama-clad boy, was both adorable and heartbreaking.

Dance has always been about space, but in Boston, it’s also about spaces. Or, as choreographer Marcus Schulkind put it in a video commemorating Green Street Studios’ 20th anniversary, “Dance is really about real estate.”

In 2012, the real estate was all over town. We had Rashaun Mitchell and Silas Riener in the world premiere of “Weathervane” at Wellesley College. The Celebrity Series brought Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, under new artistic director Robert Battle, to the Wang Theatre, Inbal Pinto & Avshalom Pollak Dance to the Paramount Theatre, and Mark Morris Dance Group to the Cutler Majestic. World Music/CRASHarts gave us Monica Bill Barnes & Company at the Institute of Contemporary Art and Ballet Folklórico de México at the Shubert Theatre, and the Royal Drummers and Dancers of Burundi at the Somerville Theatre. David Parker performed both at Oberon and at the ICA. Deborah Abel did her yoga-inspired “Calling to You” at the Tsai Performance Center. José Mateo Ballet Theatre held forth at the Sanctuary Theatre in Harvard Square.

Highlights? Parker and creative partner Jeffrey Kazin celebrating their love of song and dance in “Misters and Sisters” at Oberon. Pinto and Pollak crossing Charlie Chaplin with Federico Fellini in “Oyster.” Monica Bill Barnes and Anna Bass portraying housewives in dowdy raincoats perched precariously atop a kitchen table. Michelle Dorrance and her New York-based tap company, Dorrance Dance, bringing personality, precision, and humor to Arlington’s Regent Theatre. Mitchell and Riener defining positive and negative space and making the audience part of the action in their site-specific piece at Wellesley.


Out in the Berkshires, meanwhile, it was another stellar season at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, everything from Bill T. Jones’s “Story/Time” to the Men Dancers in “The Horse’s Mouth” to the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. In Noa Wertheim’s strange and wonderful “Mana,” Vertigo Dance Company defied logic by appearing to defy gravity. Chicago’s Luna Negra Dance Theater, which champions the work of Latino choreographers, dabbled in whimsy and madness, dancing as if it were the last night on Earth. Liz Gerring made an utterly absorbing hour out of examining recurring dreams in “she dreams in code.” And the Joffrey Ballet, now also based in Chicago, combined wild-child wit with serious choreography in works by Edwaard Liang, Yuri Possokhov, and Stanton Welch.

What Boston saw in 2012, apart from outstanding performances, was an amazing variety of dance.

Globe correspondents Karen Campbell, Janine Parker, and Thea Singer contributed. Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at