As the end of the year approaches, the Limelight team and our critics have already looked back on their classical musicoperatheatre and musical theatre highlights. We finish our 2019 round-up with a look at some of the dance highlights. As usual it was a tight decision with much to choose from but these are the productions we picked.

Jo Litson – Editor

30 Years of Sixty Five Thousand (Bangarra Dance Theatre)

Stamping Ground. Photograph © Daniel Boud

The remarkable Bangarra Dance Theatre celebrated its 30th anniversary with a triple bill that included Stamping Ground by Jiří Kylián, the Czech choreographic maestro who ran Netherlands Dance Theatre for over 20 years. Inspired by a large corroboree that Kylián attended on Groote Eylandt in the Gulf of Carpentaria, Stamping Ground is not only a thrilling piece in its own right but marked the first time that Bangarra had performed a work by a non-Indigenous choreographer. The six dancers who performed it did a brilliant job of adapting to movement that is very different to what they are used to. Programmed with Frances Rings’ Unaipon and excerpts from other Bangarra shows, it was a special evening.

Jewels (Bolshoi Ballet)

Anastasia Denisova and David Motta Soares in Emeralds. Photograph © Darren Thomas

It was a great thrill to see the Bolshoi Ballet performing two ballets in Brisbane as part of the QPAC International Series. Their bombastic, virile Spartacus proved a real crowd-pleaser, but for me it was their production of George Balanchine’s sumptuously beautiful Jewels that truly glittered. Consisting of three short works inspired by emeralds, rubies and diamonds, with each piece referencing a part of Balanchine’s life and career, it’s an ingenious concept for a piece of pure, beauteous ballet, and the dancing was exquisite. From the delicate, dreamy Emeralds to the snazzy-jazzy Rubies to the majestic Diamonds, the evening sparkled from start to finish.

Season One, Bonachela/Nankivell/Lane (Sydney Dance Company)

WOOF. Photograph © Pedro Greig

Sydney Dance Company began its 50th anniversary year with an exciting triple bill called Bonachela/Nankivell/Lane under the umbrella title of Season One. It featured new works by Artistic Director Rafael Bonachela, and Gabrielle Nankivell, together with the mainstage debut of Melanie Lane’s WOOF, which was a hit at SDC’s 2017 choreographic development program New Breed. Bonachela’s ferociously paced Cinco for five dancers, and Nankivell’s Neon Aether were both impressive but it was WOOF – featuring the dancers in flesh and golden outfits with sooty hands – that was really transporting. Moving from a stylised art installation to a pulsing, futuristic nightclub it was wildly inventive and utterly electrifying.

Rhys Ryan – Dance Critic

The Great Tamer (Dimitris Papaioannou, Perth Festival)

The Great Tamer. Photographs © Julian Mommert

Greek painter-turned-choreographer, Dimitris Papaioannou, stole the show at Perth Festival with his spectacular work, The Great Tamer. Sitting somewhere between dance and theatre, the wordless narrative explored themes of memory and identity through a collage of unadorned choreography and poignant symbolism. Bodies and objects were cleverly disassembled and reconstructed in stunning tableaux that challenged our perception of self and form. The real-life illustrations were both macabre and beautiful, wrapped in Papaioannou’s very Greek sense of humour. Carried by its breathtaking visual design and ingenious choreography, The Great Tamer completely transformed the potential of unspoken storytelling as an art form.

Grand Finale (Hofesh Shechter Company, Adelaide Festival)

Grand FinaleGrand Finale at Adelaide Festival. Photo © Rahi Rezvani

Grand Finale – a festival favourite in Adelaide, Melbourne and, in early 2020, Sydney – was a deeply moving work about humanity’s decline from Israeli-born, London-based choreographer Hofesh Shechter. Premised as an apocalyptic response to disaster and disintegration, the work tapped into universal feelings of disorder and chaos to test the strength of humanity’s resolve. Lifeless bodies were dragged across the darkened stage; barbaric mob violence erupted; corpses were flung under falling debris. These powerful images made for heavy viewing, but the constant repetition and layering of Shechter’s famed choreography – a unique mix of Israeli folk dance and rhythmic club dancing – offered a hopeful portrait of human resilience.

Outwitting the Devil (Akram Khan Company, OzAsia Festival)

Outwitting the Devil. Photograph © Jean Louis Fernandez

Having recently retired from performing, English-Bangladeshi choreographer Akram Khan opened the next chapter of his career with Outwitting the Devil – a powerful work performed by an exceptionally skilled and diverse cast. Using the ancient Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh as inspiration, the choreographer told an episodic narrative of a dying king reflecting on the choices made by his younger self. The choreography, featuring Khan’s signature kathak-contemporary physicality, slipped between modes of abstraction and hyper-dramatic characterisation. Grounded, heeled stomping and spinning in circular patterns gave way to beastly and animalistic portraits defined by hissing or protruding tongues. Vincenzo Lamagna’s evocative but unsentimental score carried us efficiently from one memory to another and helped give contemporary relevance to the ancient myth.

From our Critics Around the Country…

Natalia Osipova’s Pure Dance (Sydney Opera House)

Natalia Osipova and David Hallberg in The Leaves are Fading. Photograph © Daniel Boud

“From Osipova we saw incredibly liquid arm movements, beautiful use of the upper body, and an ability to make every movement look so easy. There was almost a nonchalance in the way she executed the choreography. From Hallberg came breathtaking turns, and pure classical line throughout his whole body. It was inspirational dancing.” – Michelle Potter

Two Feet (Adelaide Festival)

Two Feet was always a remarkable achievement by Meryl Tankard, as dancer-creator, and she’s refashioned it beyond imagining through this partnership with the marvellous Natalia Osipova.” – Diana Simmonds

Colossus (Stephanie Lake Company, Melbourne International Arts Festival)

“For all that the work evokes ideas about systems and group behaviour, it is not cerebral but expressive. Stephanie Lake has a highly original sensibility and shows great control in bringing complex elements together to create an exhilarating piece of theatre. Highly recommended.” – Jill Brown

Token Armies (Chunky Move, Melbourne International Arts Company)

“The cast delivers a watertight performance and does well to seamlessly integrate the objects and animals into the choreography. Singular in vision, this is a work that needs to be seen to be appreciated.” – Rhys Ryan

The Line (CO3)

“With the three dancers at the top of their form, and a choreographic language which both conveys clear meanings, but which never settles on this, shifting between abstraction and darkly comedic character-based action, this is to my mind the Co3’s best show.” – Jonathan W. Marshall

ALICE (in wonderland) (West Australian Ballet)

“One of Webre’s talents is his ability to give lucidity to a cluster of characters on stage, all vying for their place in the sun. With this outstanding production and a brilliant performance by the West Australian Ballet Company you have an Alice that earns its place in the sun and is absolutely enchanting.” – Rita Clarke

The Master Series (Queensland Ballet)

“Unifying all three works is dance’s facility to connect us with the essence of our humanity.” – Olivia Stewart

Sylvia (The Australian Ballet)

Sylvia is a smartly constructed work that offers strong and likeable characters in a complex game of war and triumph. The company performs the work with aplomb, carried by the three leading ballerinas and their talented counterparts.” – Rhys Ryan