This was one of the best dance years in recent memory. A ballet superstar retired gracefully at the top of his game, an inventive dancer/choreographer celebrated a quarter-century of working with Toronto Dance Theatre, and Bill T. Jones and édouard Lock made majestic returns. Here's what moved T.O. this year.
1 READING, MERCY AND THE ARTIFICIAL NIGGER (Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company/Harbourfront Centre, March 16 to 20) Flannery O'Connor 's short story about a backwoods 10-year-old and his bigoted grandfather lost in the big city came to vivid life in Bill T. Jones 's powerful dance hybrid. Jones's choreography was as lean and taut as O'Connor's prose (read by Jones himself), and he played clever tricks with gender and narrative. If his probing look at racism took our breath away, his more abstract companion piece, Mercy 10 x 8 On A Circle , gave it back with its clean formal aesthetic. Healing and life-changing.
2 RETRO VISTA (Toronto Dance Theatre/Harbourfront Centre, February 24 to 28) Well worth the two-night investment, this retrospective of 25 years of Christopher House 's choreography for TDT showed us how this intriguing House was built. From the frenetic Glass Houses (1983) to the powerful AIDS-themed Early Departures (1992) and the playful and sexy Barnyard (1992), the tight ensemble showed off House's many dimensions. Great pics of the works' original dancers (a who's who of the current indie scene), and House's notes candidly revealed his inspirations. Why isn't composer Robert Moran 's work better known?
3 THE FOUR SEASONS/CRUEL WORLD/THEME AND VARIATIONS (National Ballet of Canada, May 19 to 23) It's appropriate that Rex Harrington took symbolic leave of his career as a National Ballet principal dancer playing the nameless man in James Kudelka 's The Four Seasons. Moving from optimistic spring to weary winter, the charismatic Harrington - who hasn't exactly disappeared from the stage since retiring - made the journey seem effortless, even while obviously touched himself. An instant, ongoing ovation every night, and not a dry eye in the house.
4 PORTRAITS/MAPPING (Sarah Chase Dance Stories/DanceWorks, May 6 to 8) Over the past few years, Sarah Chase created a dozen or so "dance stories" inspired by people she met in Europe. Her presentation of three of them - connected thematically or subtly through an image or word - was simply spellbinding. Aided by musician Bill Brennan , Chase, with her calm storytelling voice, repetitive, almost hypnotic movements and sly sense of humour, created a work as rich as a novel, devastating in its climax.
5 FACING SHADOWS/RETURNING ECHOES (Tiger Princess Dance Projects, October 28 to 30) The yin and yang of the dance stage, Yvonne Ng and Robert Glumbek were born to dance together, as they proved in this powerhouse program of duets by Glumbek, Dominique Dumais and Tedd Robinson . Extreme physical challenges - like Ng swinging around on Glumbek's back in a harness - contrasted with psychologically complex tableaux and droll clown-like turns. Glumbek's return home after a couple of years in Europe is reason to rejoice.
6 AMELIA (La La La Human Steps, February 10) Dance event or rock concert? It's always hard to tell at a show by La La La Human Steps , helmed by the hipper-than-ever Édouard Lock . At its one sold-out performance, the celeb-heavy crowd feasted on a mysterious mix of live music, film, singing ando oh, yeah, lots of spinning and dancing on pointe. Blade Runner as relationship drama, a crunked-up urban fairy tale, Amelia was enigmatic and unforgettable.
7 THE LEMONKEEPERS/STIGMA (Kitt Johnson X-Act/Harbourfront Centre/SUPERDANISH, October 27 to 30) Denmark's Kitt Johnson showed her versatility in this double bill, the first piece a clown-inspired experiment with three men, a rope and about a hundred lemons, the second a riveting solo about isolation and persecution. Johnson never repeats herself, and as a solo artist she knows how to use light and sound to theatricalize every movement her muscular body makes. Hope she returns.
8 MINUS ONE (Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal, November 3 to 4) Although sparsely attended, this best-of compilation by choreographer Ohad Naharin showcased the Montreal troupe's versatility. From a rousing opening number in which the large ensemble whipped off - literally - their clothes while chanting a Jewish song to a tongue-in-cheek look at the secret hopes and dreams of the individual dancers, the show consistently amused. Loved the audience-participation piece that evoked Fellini at his most whimsical.
9 CINDERELLA (National Ballet of Canada, May 8 to 16) Who knew that Prokofiev 's difficult, fragmented score would inspire James Kudelka - not known for either story or humour - to create his strongest narrative work in years? Full of imaginative touches like a round-the-world shoe search and some clever shots at paparazzi, the production recast the title character (a fine Sonia Rodriguez ) as an independent rural figure who doesn't really want to become a princess. As catchy as this feminist message were David Boechler 's art-deco-inspired designs and hilarious performances by silly stepsisters Jennifer Fournier and Rebekah Rimsay and alcoholic stepmom Victoria Bertram .
10 CORPS EST GRAPHIQUE (Compagnie Käfïg/Harbourfront Centre, March 2 to 6) Choreographer Mourad Merzouki and his Lyon-based crew gave male-dominated hiphop dance a much-needed shot of estrogen in this witty show. Not that there wasn't plenty of strutting and look-at-me bravura on display. But the women added sensuality, which fit in beautifully with the Arab-influenced, trance-like score. Merzouki's maturing.
In an ordinary year, these artists probably would have landed on my top 10 list, but 2004 was exceptional.
Susan Lee Salvador
Matjash Mrozewski Break Open Play
Charles Linehan Dance Grand Junction/New Quartet
BLACKMAIL How can a dance piece inspired by the conventions of film noir fail to be dramatic, or at least stylish? Montrealer Deborah Dunn found a way.
TZIGANES Serge Bennathan's expensive look at the wandering Roma wandered stylistically and included stand-up comedy, torch songs and a psychic reading. The choreography was a cliché-ridden, stereotypical mess. Of course, it received a Dora Award nomination.
CIRCUS JERKS Cirque du Soleil is rightly popular, but the unimaginative use of circus elements in dance shows has to stop. From fFIDA 's pretentious Grande Scale Events to David Buchbinder's neck-twisting Shurum Burum Jazz Circus , it's clear circus acts belong under a big top - not in a theatre. Or do something different with circus, as Kitt Johnson did in The Lemonkeepers.