It's not easy to select only a handful of dance performances to recommend among the many offered in Rochester over the coming year. Dance is an art form with great variation, and people's preferences for one form over another -- say, contemporary rather than ballet, or African over tap -- are as personal as the type of music a person programs into her iPod. So, variety plays into my consideration, but talent is the decisive factor. Better to see a superb performance in a type of dance you don't usually prefer, than to see a mediocre performance in your usual choice of fare. You may even discover your dance palate to be more adventurous than you had supposed.
Bill Evans Dance will appear this fall at Geva's Nextstage. "Autumn Leaves: Hot Jazz/Cool Tap" (September 30-October 8, billevansdance.org) will feature Rhythm Tap Rochester with Evans, Cheryl Johnson, Courtney World, and guest artists Don Halquist and Leanne Rinelli, with accompaniment by the No Mean Feat Jazz Trio featuring Gabe Condon, Alex Dugdale, and Dominic Sbrega, and guests Danny Lopa (bass) and Tamara Wilcox (piano). The performance will pair tap with live jazz, both vocal and instrumental. Evans was named one of America's three favorite tap artists in the most recent Dance Magazine Reader's Poll. See him in performance and you'll understand why. The speed and precision of his footwork is breathtaking.
Garth Fagan Dance will grace its home stage at Nazareth College Arts Center for six days this fall (November 29-December 4, garthfagandance.org), and, while the company is local lore, its well-known name a recognizable commodity and proof of our city's cultural sophistication, I would be remiss in not including the company's upcoming Nazareth performances here. Fagan and his dancers have talent dripping from their fingertips. And, as always, Tony Award-winning choreographer Fagan will have yet again another new work (to be premiered at New York City's Joyce Theatre earlier in the fall) ready for Rochester in November. "Madiba," inspired by and based on former South African president Nelson Mandela's heroic anti-apartheid activism, was a work-in-progress when the company gave the audience a peek during its opening performance of Nazareth's Dance Festival this summer. I can't wait to see how much higher the airborne VitolioJeune's jumps will have become in the duet he shares with apprentice Tere Lyn Jones. Norwood Pennewell's "Liminal Flux," his second work for the company, will be presented as well.
Rochester City Ballet's "The Blood Countess" proved its seductive power in sold-out performances last year. Maybe that explains why the full-length ballet is running closer to Valentine's Day than Halloween this year (February 3-5, NazarethCollegeArtsCenter, rochestercityballet.com). Besides, vampires have mainstreamed. When aren't they in vogue these days? Artistic director Jamey Leverett created and choreographed the piece based loosely on the story of the late 16th century Hungarian countess Elizabeth Bathory, infamous for her alleged penchant for bathing in the blood of virgins. In last year's debut, company member Tara Lally was compelling as Bathory, while Brandon Alexander's portrayal of Dracula grew in power and complexity with each performance. Leverett's original artistic vision included live performance of the commissioned score by the Grammy Award-winning Ying Quartet. This February, Leverett's vision will be complete, as pianist Elinor Freer will perform alongside the quartet.
Among the national and international dance troupes making stops to Nazareth Arts Center this year are New York City-based Rioult Dance (October 1), known for its sensual movement, expressive power, and striking athleticism; the National Acrobats of China (October 28); Spain's CompaniaFlamenca Jose Porcel(November 11); stars from the Russian Ballet (March 24); and renowned modern-dance company Parsons Dance (May 5). Check artscenter.naz.edu for details.
Another local group I'm looking forward to experiencing this year is RIT/NTID Dance Company, which is presenting "Off The Wall" (February 9-12, Panara Theatre, RIT campus, rit.edu/ntid/dccs/performingarts), dance inspired by visual art, music, architecture, nature, and poetry, directed and choreographed by Thomas Warfield. Notably, the company features both deaf and hearing performers.
Finally, Bush Mango Drum & Dance's annual holiday concert is always one of the most happening performances in town (December 16, 34 Elton St., bushmango.org). The group's West African djembe drumming and dance creates an energy that is both powerful and unique. Artistic Director Colleen Hendrick and company will be presenting "Waking D'mba," a dance and drum work that tells a story of drought and famine in a West African village that is restored to health and vitality by a benevolent deity called D'mba. At this concert, Bush Mango will introduce its newest company member, Kerfala "Fana" Bangoura, a native of Guinea, West Africa. Fana was named a master drummer by the Guinean Ministry of Culture in 2008 and has more than eight years of experience as a featured soloist with Les Percussions de Guinee and Les Ballets Africains in addition to his work as percussion director of Ballet Fareta.
For a comprehensive listing of dance performances in the 2011-2012 season visit the 2011 Fall Guide at rochestercitynewspaper.com.