Dance as an art form tends to travel well, so it's no surprise that this year's best dance was all about geography. Most of these shows, if they didn't come from or put new spins on foreign cultures or experiences, explored the fascinating interior regions of the heart and mind.
1 te souvient-il? (DanceWorks, February 15 and 16) Strong individual choreographers in their own right, Montrealers Sylvain Emard and Louise Bédard paired to create this achingly beautiful duet that said so much, so economically, about relationships, desire and memory. The movement was enhanced by artist Pierre Bruneau's set, a series of panels painted with phosphorescent pigments that momentarily absorbed the dancers' shadows. Haunting.
2 helikopter/rite of spring (Ballet Preljocaj/Harbourfront Centre, November 13 to 17) Angelin Preljocaj and his stunning French troupe showed why they're the envy of Europe with this audacious double bill, the first piece a jaw-droppingly dynamic exercise in form and rhythm, the second a sensuous, disturbing, animalistic update of the Ballets Russes classic.
3 rigmarole (DanceWorks/10 Gates Dancing, November 22 and 23) Ottawa's coolest Zen monk (no kidding), Tedd Robinson proved he's also the high priest of contemporary dance with this suggestive, spare show that delivered maximum fun and insights. Part Pee-wee's Playhouse, part Nosferatu, the title piece was a deadpan, stylized look at ritual, nicely matched by a remount of Robinson's Japanese-influenced kick-ass duet with B-Boy Ru Padolsky.
4 das martyrium (Projekt Komarek/Strauss, July 18 to 28)
Inspired by the Joan of Arc story and the evocative, otherworldly aura of dancer/choreographer Heidi Strauss, director/designer Jan Komarek created a quietly sizzling portrait of heroic womanhood, martyrdom and possible madness. Choreographer Strauss grounded the piece with her muscular presence, suggestive moves and haunted eyes, which seem to have witnessed centuries.
5 virgin queen (Toronto Dance Theatre, November 26 to 30) Matjash Mrozewski's got dramatic instincts to burn, as he proved in this thrilling look at the parallel emotional journeys of a young Queen Elizabeth and the rite of passage of a naive gay man. His range of imagery is wide, his ability to suggest narrative strong, and, best of all, he never repeats himself. With the remount of his A Delicate Battle for the National, it's clear he's easily one of the city's strongest choreographers.
6dix versions (Compagnie Kafig/ Harbourfront Centre, April 30 to May 4) It was impossible to sit still during this hugely energetic show that combined a raw French-Arab hiphop sensibility with the formal rigours and discipline of concert dance. Full of eye-popping moves, Mourad Merzouki's show celebrated strut-in-your-face machismo and playful one-upmanship.
7 alankar (DanceWorks, December 12 to 14) Nova Bhattacharya and Natasha Bakht, two of Menaka Thakkar's most talented former students, explored the full emotional, physical and stylistic range of Bharatanatyam in this fascinating show, which included a bravura duet choreographed by Thakkar herself and a haunting new solo for Bhattacharya by Peggy Baker. The two dancers were like yin and yang -- Bakht elegant and slightly severe, Bhattacharya sly and dreamily contemplative. Both showed that so much of Bharatanatyam is about subtext: you carry the story within your body, the audience feels it. We did.
8i saw (princess productions/DanceWorks, October 31 to November 2) Here was one of the most eclectic shows of the year. Kathleen Rea's imaginative, richly theatrical 1996 piece Frames -- performed in and around a frame -- explored the limits we set for ourselves, while her new work, flux, examined the need to lift off with a clown-inspired whimsy. A delight. Peter Chin's Mata Hari Terbenam, choreographed for Marie-Josée Chartier (who delivered a gut-wrenching and brave performance), mixed things up with a disturbing look at loneliness amidst the beauty and terrors of the animal world.
9 ...Owning shadows (inDance, February 2 and 3)
Loosely inspired by the Indian epic the Ramayana, this collaboration between Bharatanatyam ace Hari Krishnan and Balinese expert Sandra Wong kicked multiculti ass with its colourful, vivid and psychologically complex look at love and anger. Montreal-based Wong, always watchable, should dance in T.O. more often.
10 vincent sekwati mantsoe (Parallel Ports/DanceWorks, October 17 to 19)
Suffused with ritual and respect for the traditions of African dance and other cultures, South African Mantsoe charmed the audience during his series of riveting solos. No one who saw him will forget the closing number, during which he smiled, sang to himself, drenched his pants in water and then slyly sprayed us. It felt like a baptism.
In the Haman/Navas Project (February 8 and 9), Jose Navas's staged improvisation sessions with cellist Walter Haman were the worst of both worlds: interesting neither as dance nor as music. Sometimes improv just means you're lazy.
Canboulay and Ronald Taylor's Maljo (December 12 to 14) was a vague and ludicrous look at oppression and self-empowerment, two earnest themes that look nice on grant applications. GS