What were your favorite performances of the year? Our team of editors and writers nominated the best shows we saw in 2016. But you had the final vote—here’s what moved you the most.
By Guillermo Perez, Madeline Schrock, Hedy Weiss and Lauren Wingenroth
Arguably the danciest show to arrive on Broadway this season, the revival of CATS transports audiences back to the Jellicle Ball and its classic ’80s jazz technique. The cast—many of whom are Broadway vets—excels in the large ensemble dance breaks peppered with seamlessly choreographed paws and twitches. But Andy Blankenbuehler’s take on Gillian Lynne’s original choreography also showcases the dancers’ range. Vignettes revealing the cats’ backstories include throwback jazz, pyrotechnic aerials and fouettés, graceful balletic moments, and theatrical tap. Although this revival hews close to the original, it’s not devoid of Blankenbuehler’s own stamp: syncopated movement with playful pauses and choreography that drives the story forward.
Best Female Performance
Impressing a New York audience in a Balanchine work is no small feat. But on Pacific Northwest Ballet’s tour this year, soloist Leta Biasucci reinvented a classic role, enchanting even those who’ve seen the often-performed Square Dance countless times. She led the female cast through daring petit allégro sequences with ferocity and attack, then reemerged to tackle the pas de deux’s slow, luxurious promenades and penchés with easy control. The up-and-comer emits a charming brightness that makes it difficult to look away—and easy to get caught up in the natural precision of her technique.
Best Male Performance
Renato Penteado brought his artistic prowess to a range of roles in 2016. But it was in two Balanchine works—his forte—where the Miami City Ballet principal’s superlative standards reached their highest point. La Source let him reprise a part he tackled a decade ago, his dancing now equally lively but blessed with greater poise. His skills further earned him a crown in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, where as Oberon he wove glittery steps with agility: the perfect fantasy ballet for a fantastic career.
Best New Production
It isn’t easy to use tap to tell a psychologically nuanced and narratively complex story. Yet that is exactly what Chicago Tap Theatre did to riveting effect with Time Steps, a tale of romance, time travel, unexpected encounters and mortality. This wasn’t the first time CTT and its artistic director and choreographer Mark Yonally have spun stories through tap; past productions have dealt with everything from Chicago gangsters to the rock band Queen. But Time Steps turned out to be particularly haunting as it posed the questions: What if a time salesman could offer you the chance to revisit important moments in your life? Would you do anything differently? The sense of time moving backward and forward was skillfully suggested by counterclockwise circling and light, and the nervousness that comes with an interaction between strangers was conjured by alternately hesitant and excited taps. Each character had their own tap language and inflection, and each relationship played out with a distinctive back-and-forth of emotional footwork.
Best Emerging Choreographer
Caleb Teicher has been making noise as a tap dancer for years. In 2011, he won a Bessie Award for outstanding individual performance for his work with Michelle Dorrance and Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, and in 2012, we named him one of our “25 to Watch.” Although his career as a choreographer is only just beginning, he already has a base of loyal fans who can’t get enough of his clever, feel-good storytelling and intricately layered rhythms. And it’s no wonder his work has captured so many—from tackling gender issues through tap to blending musical theater and hip hop, there’s practically nothing Teicher is afraid to try.
DM Editor Favorites
Editor in Chief
Best Revival: L.A. Dance Project in Martha Graham’s “White duet,” “Moon duet” and “Star duet” from 1957’s A Dancer’s World
“Dancers often approach Graham work dutifully, striving to get it ‘right.’ But the LADP dancers tackled these historical duets fearlessly. Their vivacious attack and easy fluidity—along with Janie Taylor’s chic costumes—breathed fresh life into the thrilling choreography.”
Best Female Performance: BalletX’s Chloe Felesina in Trey McIntyre’s Big Ones
“Dancing to Amy Winehouse in an enormous pair of bunny ears isn’t what you might imagine as a moving performance. But Felesina showed an incredible depth—at times hilarious, at others heart-wrenching and always captivating.”
Best New Production: Brian Brooks’ Wilderness
“Brooks’ movement is always such a delight to watch—organic yet endlessly surprising and inventive. He doesn’t try to hide the mechanics, but you’re still asking yourself, ‘Wait, how did they do that?’ ”
Best Male Performance: American Ballet Theatre men in Alexei Ratmansky’s Serenade after Plato’s Symposium
“These men represented the full spectrum of what a male ballet dancer can be, both technically and dynamically. The seven strikingly different performers went far beyond the usual bravado, showing that they could be sensitive, explosive, coy and strong.”
Best New Production: Shuffle Along, or, The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed
“I love that this show brought an important part of Broadway’s history to life in such an original and compelling way. And the cast was packed with talented dancers, who beautifully executed Savion Glover’s sophisticated tap choreography.”
Editor at Large
Best Emerging Choreographer: New York City Ballet’s Lauren Lovette
“I was impressed by Lovette’s command of group choreography, effortless lifts and taut structure—and her good sense in costuming even in the face of the overly elaborate fall fashion gala.”