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Year in review: 145 shows that defined theatre in 2016

Declan Bennet (front) and Tyrone Huntley (back, centre) in Jesus Christ Superstar. Photo: Tristram Kenton Declan Bennet (front) and Tyrone Huntley (back, centre) in Jesus Christ Superstar. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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Barriers broken, traditions upheld: 2016 was an amazing year for dance. Erosion of formats continued with theatre leaking into dance, circus sliding into ballet and vice versa. The borders were more porous than the European Union.

Mark Bruce Company's The Odyssey. Photo: Tristram Kenton
Mark Bruce Company’s The Odyssey. Photo: Tristram Kenton

One work embodied the seachange, leading the way to a new kind of performance. Crystal Pite’s Betroffenheit, in collaboration with Jonathon Young and Electric Company Theatre, was the most mould-breaking event of the year.

In the commercial sector, Andrew Wright dazzled us with his exuberant choreography in Half a Sixpence while Stephen Mear popped to Paris to supercharge a new production of 42nd Street. But big budgets were few and far between and many companies suffered swingeing cuts. Even so, companies such as Sweetshop Revolution, Mark Bruce Company and Candoco introduced new ideas into ancient skills. Solo shows proved that enormous budgets were not necessary to create memorable evenings. Marc Brew and Ben Duke delivered two of my most cherished events of the year – For Now, I Am… and Paradise Lost (Lies Unopened Beside Me).

Wayne McGregor surprised many with his abstract Obsidian Tear, while Will Tuckett’s Elizabeth, with the fabulous Zenaida Yanowsky and Carlos Acosta, was articulate.

The enterprising Blue Elephant Theatre in Camberwell, whose artistic policy embraces dance and theatre, is to be applauded for commitment and energy.

Don Quixote at the Royal Opera House, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton
Don Quixote at the Royal Opera House, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton

The recent unhappy history of the Bolshoi was swept away by a season of astonishing confidence, including a vivacious Don Quixote and a fire-breathing account of Ratmansky’s The Flames of Paris. The Royal Ballet opened the year well with an Ashton double-bill that was danced sublimely by all, including Francesca Hayward, whose sunlit grace warmed every role she danced throughout the year, and Itziar Mendizabal, whose “sulphurous sexuality” lit up the stage right up to the Arabian dance in this year’s magnificent Nutcracker. Peter Wright celebrated his 90th birthday on stage after the opening night and was as spry and amusing as a man half his age.

Liam Scarlett’s Frankenstein caught a critical cold, though it didn’t stop the young choreographer from being invited to become artistic associate at Queensland Ballet next year.

Tamara Rojo continued to strengthen her reign as artistic director of English National Ballet and gained a lot of friends with her triple-bill of female choreographed ballets She Said. Her performance as Frida Kahlo in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Broken Wings was the centrepiece of an exhilarating evening.

At Wilton’s Music Hall, I throughly enjoyed Mark Bruce’s dance interpretation of The Odyssey, but the big mindchanger of the year was Gary Clarke Company’s Coal, which arrived at the Place and prompted me to start asking questions about choreographers’ avoidance of political, social and topical subjects.

Finally, it was a year when the older generation was celebrated – Wright (90), Arlene Phillips (73) and Alessandra Ferri (53) all made major contributions in 2016.

Best and worst

Betroffenheit. Photo: Michael Slobodian
Betroffenheit. Photo: Michael Slobodian


Betroffenheit (Sadler’s Wells, London)

Unquestionably, this was the most exciting, innovative and shattering dance/drama of the year. Crystal Pite’s company Kidd Pivot took Jonathon Young’s scalding tale of personal grief and loss and created something profound, compelling and original. An extraordinary event.


Her Name Was Carmen (London Coliseum)

The St Petersburg Ballet Theatre delivered a truly dreadful updated account of Carmen, which purported to address the refugee crisis. Alas, it was little more than a vanity project for Irina Kolesnikova.

Neil Norman, dance critic

Now read: George Hall’s best and worst opera of 2016

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