High above our heads, a society matron in a cascading purple dress trills about her life of privilege. Across the hall, a woman in a tightly cinched mechanical bustle glides through a ballroom reminiscing about her halcyon summer affair. In the foggy courtyard, a poverty-stricken man limps toward wealth while dancers cling to window frames behind him (and the audience clings to rough blankets draped over the seats).
Known for snaps of personality and unexpected twists one doesn't often find at Swan Lake, Smuin Ballet has outdone itself this season. Scoring a much-coveted Jiri Kylian piece - arguably the best choreographer in the world, receiving permission to use one of his works is a Herculean feat - Smuin's dancers perform an elegantly articulated seduction with sharp props and lots of bare skin. (The dancers handily avoid skewering any toes, if you're worried.) Erotically charged and expertly composed, Kylian's Petite Mort (why, yes, that IS French for orgasm) is not to be missed - whether you're a ballet fan or not.
Dancers soaring across stage in their underwear are never to be missed. Especially when the women strip the men down to the barest of skivvies and redress them in haute couture created on the spot with masking tape, butcher paper, and tissue. Inspired by a manual on correct female conduct written in 1963, the world premiere of A Guide To Elegance features dancers moving to the sounds of Pamela Z's original score and a voiceover intoning the themes of the manual.
The problem with seeing an amazing show is having to turn around and describe said amazing show. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is apparently indescribable, as I've been sitting here for an hour trying to think of ways to adequately convey the sharp mastery of Revelations or the Dr. Seuss-like appeal of a dude in blue spandex with a tall blue feather on his head. Company auditions must screen for men with coiled springs instead of muscles and women who swing through combinations with a dynamic grace, because that's precisely what you get. Toss them onstage with choreography by artistic director Judith Jamison and Ailey himself, and you get dance that moves toward the sublime.
Defy gravity, literally. Rock climbing meets acrobatics meets dance in AscenDance Project's Beyond Gravity. Founded in 2006 by German-born performance artist and mountaineer Isabel von Rittberg, the AscenDance Project explores the aesthetics of rock climbing with dancers performing on a vertical stage. Their 2008 world premiere in SF's very own Union Square set the stage for many future performances to come. Using a 24-foot-long and 12-foot-high climbing wall, AscenDance artists move through three dimensions, using time and space as variables. Dancers prove their ability to overcome gravity—no ropes, no harnesses, just sheer strength.
Robert Moses is known for his sinuous, rapid-fire choreography and his dancers are known for their enviable ability to slide gracefully through movement so complex that the average audience member eye-brain connection is speed dazzled. The performance this weekend marks the world premiere of a behemoth of a project. The Cinderella Principle explores non-traditional family groupings (two dads, two moms, older parents, in vitro and all the waiting and wondering and hoping that entails) culled from interviews conducted with twelve Bay Area families and arranged by award-winning playwright Anne Galjour.
Bangladeshi-British choreographer Akram Khan pulls dancers from an expansive array of backgrounds - China, Korea, India, Slovakia, South Africa and Spain - to perform quick yet thoughtful meditations on living in a global community. (That said, meditation is rarely this acrobatic.) Bahok, the work being performed at Yerba Buena Center tonight and Saturday, was originally a collaboration between the Akram Khan Company and the National Ballet of China, depicting an airport with a crew of stranded travelers from around the world, trying to communicate with each other as they await their fate. The title of the piece is the Bengali word for "carrier" and bahok investigates the ways in which the body carries cultural identity and a sense of inclusion.
From classic to cutting-edge, here's what's hot in the world of dance for January and February.
Mormophes Ballet Troupe
In just two short years, Christopher Wheeldon went from being a New York City Ballet rookie to its first artist-in-residence. Now, scarcely 10 years later, he's the talk of the modern ballet choreography town. Prolific, inventive and forward-thinking, expect to see an exciting new twist to a classic art form.
YBCA Novellus Theater, January 23-24, 415-978-2787, $32-$49
SF Ballet's Swan Lake
Skip the hoards of tourists and families trying to stake out a spot for fireworks along the Embarcadero and opt to ring in the new year at one of this year’s hip events instead. From all-out dance party to mellow beer pairing dinner, here’s our list of Top 10 NYE to-dos.
A Hip Hop Happening Affair
The Roots: The Philly-based rap group known for their trailblazing hip hop will headline a show at the Warfield with Orgone and DJ Harry D. Expect high-octane energy and band members parading through the audience.
If you've ever felt an overwhelming need to plow onto the War Memorial stage and join the Russian dancers in a rousing round of pirouettes before being hurled unceremoniously into the cold by burly ballet bouncers, this is the event for you. A wildly popular annual tradition from the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band, this year's Dance-along Nutcracker dumps the drawing room of Clara's bourgeois parents for Hollywood's favorite brand of Americana, the Wild West - where macho men are covered in dust and stagecoaches are halted by mustache-twirling hooligans.