Of all the performing arts, dance is the most universal. No wonder this year's list is filled with artists of all stripes. Whether they fused classical Indian dance with contemporary, or contrasted French and Japanese traditions, here are the shows and dancers that moved me most.
1 KAASH (Akram Khan/Harbourfront Centre, November 4 to 8) The future of modern dance is a funky fusion of East and West: kathak made cool, spins and twirls that wouldn't be out of place in a martial arts film, and a suggestive arc about destruction and rebirth that had the weight of myth. Khan and his multiculti company proved incapable of producing an ugly movement.
2 HOME (Peggy Baker Dance Projects, January 16 to 19) Peggy Baker warmed up a chilled January crowd with this hard-to-beat mixed program. She shone as a clown-like figure fearlessly trying out new experiences in Tere O'Connor's Person Project, then broke our hearts opposite the National's James Kudelka as a couple stuck in a faltering relationship in Doug Varone's evocative Home -- an Alice Munro story in miniature. At the end she and cellist Shauna Rolston presented a witty look at the performing life in Tedd Robinson's The Transparent Recital.
3 the magic flute (Royal Winnipeg Ballet, October 31 to November 1) Mark Godden (Dracula) brought a sense of wonder and awe back to modern ballet. He didn't simply rework Mozart's opera for dancers -- he reimagined it, with the same playful spirit but lots of knowing contemporary winks, all danced vigorously by a confident troupe. Unlike John Alleyne's troubled Tristan, Godden's Magic Flute proved that new full-length narrative ballets can still fly.
4 BEAUTY (Julia Sasso Dances, January 28 to February 1) Dancemakers vet Sasso took on big themes -- birth, sex, death -- and made it all sensuously compelling, never forgetting that laughter is part of life. She was helped by her dancers (Justine Chambers, Heidi Strauss, Michael Sean Marye, Mike Moore, Ron Stewart and Michael Trent), who, in various groupings and gropings, created image after unforgettable image. The title said it all.
5 SLY VERB (Toronto Dance Theatre, November 18 to 22) All the dancers had a chance to strut their stuff, clothed and unclothed, in Christopher House's amusing look at all things skin-related. The structure proved a tad slippery, and the nudity could be distracting, but House and his attractive dancers demonstrated that they know how to play, both with themselves and some complex ideas.
6 FOI (Les Ballets C de la B/Harbourfront Centre, May 15 to 18) Dance, theatre and music fused into a tight fist in this hard-to-watch look at disasters both natural and man-made. Watching a son being pummelled by his father, a swan dying in an oil slick or a group of office workers recovering (or not) from some disaster might seem overly bleak. But Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and his culturally assorted ensemble of performers found grace in pain, and truth in rubble. Cathartic.
7 ONE HUNDRED WORDS for snow/there, below/the end/gazebo dances/monument (National Ballet of Canada, November 13 to 19) The National Ballet's fall mixed program concluded with Matjash Mrozewski's ambitious new Monument, a pomo Old World-meets-New piece that took too long getting to its powerful conclusion. Better was the graceful choreography of James Kudelka, whose Gazebo Dances evoked Old World Americana, and there, below, where he proved he's one of the best non-narrative choreographers around.
8 futari en trois couleurs (fFIDA International Dance Festival, August 12 to 17) Feel like escargots or sushi? La Marseilleise or Madama Butterfly? Louis Laberge-Côté and Keiko Ninomiya contrasted French and Japanese culture in a series of dance set pieces that were by turns visually stunning and tongue-in-cheek silly. The most sheerly entertaining piece at the newly revamped fFIDA fest.
9 (a)round 2 (Four Chambers Dance Projects, September 6 to 13) Heidi Strauss and Darryl Tracy's series of four commissioned duets confronted the theme of mortality with a wide dance vocabulary -- everything from Lesandra Dodson's formal and severe opener to Guillaume Bernardi's post-apocalyptic nightmare. The pair even presented -- in words and movement -- some personal anecdotes via Sarah Chase's Contralateral Duets. A fine mix of dance and storytelling.
10 cinq voix, cinq visages (Dancemakers, October 2 to 4) Jane Mappin used movement, song, text, video and a strong all-female ensemble (including a couple of mom/daughter combos) to explore the lives of girls and women. Not everything worked -- we didn't need the rant against critics. But the best sequences (a dancer performing a duet with her video image self, a girl trying to dig her way to China, or watching her mother swim away) evinced a poignant simplicity.
RED SKY'S DANCING AMERICAS Conceived by magnetic performer Sandra Laronde with mannered choreography by Peter Chin, this grant application-friendly work inspired by the migration of the monarch butterfly from Canada to Mexico (no, I didn't just make that up) proved that dance is at a dead end. Butterfly shmutterfly, this was a choreographed caterpillar.
AUTOBIOGRAPHY: CHAPTERS ONE THROUGH FIVE Gerry Trentham's self-indulgent opus proved the most tedious 70 minutes of the year. Opaque writing, pretentious film and video work and six dancers in search of something to dance. Devoid of truth, real or imagined. ****