Baltimore dance scene showed movement both onstage and off THE YEAR IN REVIEW J. L. Conklin

December 29, 1991|By J. L. Conklin

Baltimore's dance scene had a lot of movement during 1991 . . . and not just on stage.

The most noticable moves were those of the Maryland Ballet. Faced with a troubled bank account and a fickle audience that equated ballet with toe shoes and tutus, the company canceled its spring performances at the Baltimore Museum of Art, resurfaced in May with a short-lived association with Loyola College, then more or less disbanded -- although at its offices and ballet school it was business as usual.

Then company founders Daniel Kane and Phillip Carman announced that they would forgo a regular season and instead present an all-star production of "The Nutcracker" at the Lyric Opera House, using the services of furloughed dancers from such companies as the American Ballet Theatre and Dance Theatre of Harlem.

The production, featuring the considerable talents of Julie Kent and her partner Alexander Ritter, as well as others, was a critical success and apparently a commercial one too: Performances were added to the ambitious 10-show schedule.

Baltimore's Dance on the Edge Series, the city's premiere presenter of contemporary dance, began the year by at the Baltimore Museum of Art, then relocated this to Towson State University's newly renovated Stephens Hall Theatre. While the theater has comfortable seats and basically good sightlines, be forewarned that you can't see the dancers feet if you sit close to the stage.

Highlights of this year's series included David Dorfman, Marta Renzi and the Phoenix Dance Company from Leeds, England -- whose tour de force performance featured one of the most moving works of the year, Phillip Taylor's "Sacred Space," set to music by Arvo Part.

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre left its mark on the area last February with a program that blended the company's namesake choreography with that of the company's longtime associate and current artistic director, Judith Jamison. While audiences still thrill to the late Ailey's signature work, "Revelations," it was Ms. Jamison's "Forgotten Time" that will be remembered as the superior work on the program.

The Ailey and its junior company were also here during the spring and summer, visiting schools and working with disadvantaged young people.

In other notable developments, Dorothy Fried handed the artistic reins of Kinetics Dance Theatre to choreographer Alvin Mays, and Juliet Forrest, citing funding difficulties, shut down her company, the Forrest Collection.

As if to prove that companies are desperate to dance and will do so practically anywhere, some of this city's choreographers found refuge at St. John's Church, one of Baltimore's homeless shelters. In the spring, Kathy Wildberger's Path Dance Company presented works there by local choreographers; while the program was artistically uneven, the energy level was high and the support impressive.

August brought the performance of the year: the White Oak Dance Project, featuring celebrated choreographer Mark Morris and ballet supersar Mikhail Baryshnikov at the Merriweather Post Pavilion. Both modern and ballet fans oohed and aahed over Mr. Morris' finely tuned choreography and Mr. Baryshnikov's ability to make even the most rudimentary movement profound.

The best of '91 . . .

* The White Oak Dance Project. Mikhail Baryshnikov's performance may not boast the pyrotechnics of old, but he still makes even the most fundamental movements seem profound.

* Phoenix Dance Company of Leeds, England, offered outstanding intellectual, artistic and emotional interest.

* Alvin Ailey America Dance Theatre. Outstanding choreography the company's namesake as well as its current director, Judith Jamison.

* Next Ice Age. Dorothy Hamill, Nathan Birch and Tim Murphy collaborate in a joyful and dramatic program.

... and the worst

* A faltering economy that made a struggling art form even more vulnerable. Despite the adversity, companies large and small did admirably.

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