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11 for ‘11: The year’s best dance

'The White City: Chicago's Columbian Expositi1893'

"The White City: Chicago's Columbian Exposition of 1893"

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Updated: January 26, 2012 8:04AM

1. ‘The White City: Chicago’s Columbian Exposition of 1893’

How do you dance a historical event? Thodos Dance Chicago’s wonderfully sophisticated new multimedia dance-theater piece, created by Broadway’s Ann Rein­king and Chicago’s Melissa Thodos, found ideal ways of tapping into all the personalities, conflicts and horror of the fabled Expo through a deft mix of highly expressive choreography and sharp storytelling. The production marked a major breakthrough for this already accomplished company.

And there was more glorious dancing to be had:

2. Hubbard Street

The total mastery of this company’s dancing is a given, but it was on particular display during its spring program, when the fiendishly difficult choreography of two Israeli choreographers — Ohad Naharin (“Three to Max”) and Sharon Eyal (“Too Beaucoup”) — was premiered at the Harris Theatre for Music and Dance. It’s also worth noting that the company was invited to perform in one of the most demanding dance cities in the world this past fall: St. Petersburg, Russia.

3. Joffrey Ballet

Despite a nerve-jangling labor dispute this past summer, the Joffrey kept dancing, with a debut of Yuri Possokhov’s charming, freshly modernized take on “Don Quixote” at the Auditorium Theatre, and a superlative performance of Balanchine’s hugely challenging “Stravinsky Violin Concerto” at the outdoor Chicago Dancing Festival in August.

4. River North Dance Chicago

This company has been dancing brilliantly for many seasons, but it rarely has looked better than during the past year when its virtuosity was on full display in two world premieres: “Simply Miles, Simply Us,” Frank Chaves’ superb rendering of the many jazz styles of Miles Davis, and “Al Sur Del Sur,” a suite of tango dances by Sabrina and Ruben Veliz that easily could have convinced you River North’s dancers had grown up in the tango clubs of Buenos Aires.

5. Luna Negra Dance Theater

Although this Latino-infused Chicago company has far too few performances on stages here, its presence is happily on the increase. This season’s Harris Theater concert, under the umbrella title of “Mujeres!” (“Women!”), confirmed its flair for poetic intensity, rich characterization and scenic beauty in two impressive new works — artistic director Gustavo Ramirez Sansano’s “Not Everything” and Spanish choreographer Asun Noales’ “Juana” — along with a formidable remount of “Paloma Querida,” Michelle Manzanales’ deft portrait of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo.

6. Aspen Santa Fe Ballet

This visiting company performed “Uneven,” Cayetano Soto’s stark, angular, deeply sensuous piece on the “Moderns” program at the Harris Theater as part of the free Chicago Dancing Festival, and it was nothing short of breathtaking in both its conception and execution.

7. Martha Graham Dance

Also on one of the indoor Chicago Dancing Festival programs was Robert Wilson’s “Shaker Interior” from “Snow on the Mesa,” a dreamy blend of Japanese, Shaker and Wilsonian minimalism (and eroticism) ravishingly danced by Graham company members Xiaochuan Xie and Tadej Brdnik.

8. Dazzling pas de deux

At the grand finale of the Chicago Dancing Festival in Millennium Park, the New York City Ballet’s Tiler Peck (partnered by Gonzalo Garcia) demonstrated how technical fireworks can also be great art. Peck’s breezy expressiveness transcended her astonishing virtuosity in the grandest ways.

9. ‘West Side Story’

Jerome Robbins’ story-propelling, character-defining choreography remains in a class by itself, and the dancing of the Sharks, the Jets and that mambo in the gym still had the power to thrill in the national touring production of the Broadway remount.

10. Musical theater masters

Andy Lupp (at the Paramount Theatre as Alfred P. Doolittle in Jim Corti’s production of “My Fair Lady,” and at Marriott Theatre, partnering the delicious Tammy Mader, in “White Christmas”) remains the next best thing we have to Fred Astaire. Caroline O’Connor gave a knockout, sexually charged dance performance in the “Story of Lucy and Jessie” number choreographed by Alex Sanchez for the Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s “Follies.” And choreographers Rachel Rockwell (for “The Sound of Music” at Drury Lane Oakbrook) and Mader (in her tap-crazy choreography for “42nd Street” at the Marriott) demonstrated why they are among the very best in the business.

11. Rahm talks dance

Who ever would have believed that a mayor of the “city of big shoulders” would be an unabashed dance aficionado? But such names as Twyla Tharp, Jiri Kylian and Bill T. Jones are second nature to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who is a frequent audience member at dance concerts, and who easily wowed national dance presenters and company directors in July at the Auditorium Theatre with his enthusiastic speech at Dance/USA’s Annual Conference.

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