If you live in a big city, like London or New York City, you are likely spoiled with a multitude of dance shows to see every single week of the entire year. Since launching at the end of January, Dance Dispatches reviewed 27 performances, some by world-renowned dance companies on tour and some by smaller local dance troupes. Our list of the top 19 dance shows from 2019 includes productions across many dance genres, including our favourite ballet, hip-hop, modern dance, folk dance and ballroom dance performances.
19. Dancing the Coral Suite – Darrah Carr Dance
Modern Irish music by Dana Lyn and Kyle Sanna inspired Dancing the Coral Suite (2019); so it’s only fitting that their live string music accompanies the performance by Darrah Carr Dance. Irish dance and modern dance choreographer Darrah Carr creates a variety of vignettes that feature traditional Irish dance steps alongside modern dance technique. There’s sort shoe and hard shoe dancing to jigs and reels and some improvisation, too, in the dreamy aquatic landscape.
18. Flirt with Reality – Another Kind of Blue
The Dutch group that featured on America’s Got Talent and Britain’s Got Talent delights audiences with their innovative show, called Flirt with Reality . Choreographer, David Middendorp, meticulously crafts projections to complement the dancers’ movements. The first piece incorporates a flock of drones to beautiful effect, but the clear audiences favorite is Flyland in a Room, which launched the company into fame on the aforementioned television shows.
For more insight into the production, see our interview with Another Kind of Blue founder, David Middendorp.
17. Lazarus and Revelations – Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater brought four different programmes to London this year. We chose to see the London premiere of Lazarus (2018), which loosely reflects founder Alvin Ailey’s life. The eye-opening piece about the realities of black Americans is tempered with Ailey’s uplifting magnum opus Revelations (1960). The dancers’ are physically impressive, but their spirit sets them up and apart from other professional dance companies.
16. Them / Us – BalletBoyz
The BalletBoyz’ Them / Us programme promised to be good, since Christopher Wheeldon’s original duet Us is tender and quietly stunning. The 2019 show extends the stirring duet, which closes the performance. The show opens with Them – an athletic piece that follows the cohesion and dissolution of groups around a large metal cuboid frame. Still Wheeldon’s kernel remains the highlight.
15. Pure Dance – Natalia Osipova
The Royal Ballet principal dancer Natalia Osipova came back to her home base in London with her Pure Dance show. The programme features ballet alongside more modern pieces, including a non-religious solo danced to Schubert’s Ave Maria by Yuka Oishi. Osipova looks most natural, albeit vulnerable as the piece calls for, in her expressive duet Left Behind alongside choreographer and real-life fiancé Jason Kittelberger.
14. MADHEAD – Botis Seva, performed by NYDC
Boti’s Seva’s MADHEAD show on the National Youth Dance Company proves that there’s plenty of in dancers ages 15 – 24. The physically demanding hip-hop theatre piece required rigorous training, but it paid off, since the sharp, synchronized choreography is exquisite. The tension that bubbles at the surface of the piece gives way to showier displays of talent that highlight each individual, but overall, the piece is intensely thought provoking.
Boy Blue’s REDD is another hip-hop theatre piece – and one that left our seat-neighbor teary-eyed.
13. Lindo Folk Dance Show – Lindo Folklore Ensemble
The Lindo Folklore Ensemble performance in Dubrovnik, Croatia regularly holds music and dance shows; we just so happened to visit in 2019. Audiences are treated to a pleasant evening of traditional folk dances from around the country and the countries it borders. Short introductions to each type of dance help the audience to understand what makes the movement patterns unique and give insight into the local music and the costumes.
12. Pepperland – Mark Morris Dance Company
Pepperland, performed by the Mark Morris Dance Group, pays tribute to The Beatles album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Expect colorful costumes and a cool vie that transports you back a couple of decades. They introduce eminent figures from the era in unique poses as the show opens so see if you scan spot them scattered throughout. The stylish dancers rocket and romp around stage in a fun evening.
11. Mixed Bill – Sergei Polunin
Ballet superstar Sergei Polunin’s 2019 show at The London Palladium was going to be a hard sell after his social media tirades alienated many of his fans. And the contemporary choreography Polunin chose to showcase his talent and artistry left his hardcore ballet fans flustered. But his performance is Ross Freddie Ray’s Fraudulent Smile and Yuka Oishi’s intensely physical Sacré was praiseworthy. Unfortunately Oishi’s Paradox and unnecessary Sacré epilogue don’t stand up to the show’s noteworthiness, which affected our overall review.
10. Fashion Freak Show – Jean Paul Gaultier
Jean Paul Gaultier is famous for his French fashion empire and his perfume commercials, but his Fashion Freak Showrevue demonstrates how well the arts can work together in a single performance. Autobiographical in nature, the production not only revisits Gaultier’s most iconic creations, it tells of the decades during which he lived. There’s club dancing and partying and a sobering reminder of the HIV/ AIDS epidemic. Still, the celebratory feeling prevails with sassy struts, vogue-ing and plenty of on-stage revelry.
9. The Power of the Latina Voice – Ballet Hispánico
Ballet Hispánico made their way to the Apollo Theater in Harlem to show The Power of the Latina Voice: a triple bill that features pieces by female choreographers. The imaginative Con Abrazos Abiertos (2017) by Michelle Manzaneles gets the audience chuckling and thinking about the difficulty of navigating identity whilst belonging to two cultures, yet feeling inadequate of each. Afterwards, Anabelle Lopez Ochoa’s easy to grasp Tiburones (2019) ends the show on an empowering note.
8. Merce Cunningham Centennial Celebration – The Guggenheim
2019 marked the hundredth year since modern dance choreographer, Merce Cunningham, was born. The Merce Cunningham Trust curated a program of Centennial celebrations, including a ‘Works & Process’ showing and discussion at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in hometown New York City. Dancers from multiple casts of Night of 100 Solos performed a re-worked version, specifically set for Frank Lloyd Wright’s Peter B. Lewis Theater before formers Cunningham dancers performed duets, interspersed with panel discussions. The pristine control required for Cunningham’s dance is awesome, if not inspiring.
Whether you’re a fan or completely unfamiliar with Cunningham’s work, you should see the Cunningham film in 3D.
7. Giselle – DaDa Masilo
Dada Masilo’s Giselle is unlike any you’ve seen before – guaranteed. South African choreographer, Masilo, transports the story to her home country and brings traditional Tswana dance to the stage. In Masilo’s evocative Giselle, we gain a glimpse into village life and see how the townspeople play a role in Giselle’s death. We also witness the transformation of the lead character from distraught lover into her own heroine, which is very satisfying, indeed.
6. Until the Lions – Akram Khan
British choreographer Akram Khan set his cinematic show Until the Lions in London’s Roundhouse theatre. Only three dancers carry the entire one-act show, but live musicians bordering the circular stage bring the atmosphere alive. The Indian-infused modern dance tells a part of the Mahabharata story, where a stolen bride is reincarnated and extracts vengeance from her former captor. This show deserved its second run after premiering in 2016.
We didn’t realize stolen brides were common in stories, but we saw another in The Fountain of Tears ballet by the Hungarian National Ballet (Magyar Nemzeti Balett) in Budapest.
5. Tales of the Turntable – ZooNation
Tales of the Turntable, performed by young members of the ZooNation: The Kate Prince Company, is a heartwarming production about an aspiring DJ, who bonds with his grandfather over hip-hop music. They travel back in time to trace the roots of hip-hop from the jazz era and pass through the days of disco, too. The spirited production shows a range of hip-hop dance styles: breaking, krump, popping, locking and more, while encapsulating all of the drama of high school student life.
4. Balanchine’s The Nutcracker – NYC Ballet
This isn’t just any version of The Nutcracker ballet. This is George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, set on the New York City Ballet. Ballet companies around the world perform this annual winter favorite, but this one has an extra dash of Christmas magic – with a towering Christmas tree (that grows ever taller) and the magical snow globe effect during the snowflakes dance. Touches of humor are scattered throughout, and the New York City Ballet’s performance is predictable on point(e). This jovial show will warm your cockles.
3. Christmas Spectacular – Radio City Rockettes
Continuing the Christmas theme, the Radio City Rockettes’ Christmas Spectacular is pretty splendid. The all-female precision dance company incorporates Christmas tunes in a dazzling production with live music and enormous projections. (The high-tech facelift came into play during 2018.) It’s jazzy, glitzy and ritzy in all the right ways. You will hold it in your heart, possibly forever, but it sparks tremendous joy.
If you want to go – especially with children – see our Rockette’s Christmas Spectacular tips before booking.
2. Giselle – Akram Khan, performed by English National Ballet
Akram Khan’s Giselle has been viewed by audiences around the world, in person and via broadcast. Set on the English National Ballet, Khan puts a modern spin on the tale by placing Giselle in a group of migrant factory workers. And although created on ballet dancers, the contemporary choreography complements the miminalistic set, leaving the audience to fill the blank spaces in their own way. Unlike some traditional performances, Khan’s Giselle gives the audience space to breathe and reflect.
1. Tango Fire – Germán Cornejo
If you can’t see Argentine tango in Buenos Aires, cadging a seat to this scorching Tango Fire show is the next best thing. The elaborate production, choreographed by Germán Cornejo, has toured the world for many years – each a testament to its incredible success.
“The first half of Tango Fire is tan-go, go, go!”– Alison Roberts-Tse, Dance Dispatches
In some numbers, the audience can glean the intimate sense of partner dancing, as danced in traditional milongas, but most of the show is a blowout spectacular – and it’s fantastic with flicking legs and airtight turn sequences that set hearts aflutter.
What were some of your favourite dance shows from 2019? And what are you looking forward to viewing in 2020? We’d love to hear more in the comments below!