DDF News — 16 Dec 2019

Oona Doherty tops The Guardian's list of best dance shows of 2019

Oona Doherty tops The Guardian's list of best dance shows of 2019

The Guardian has released its Top 10 list of dance shows from 2019 and one of our Festival favourites, Oona Doherty's Hard To Be Soft - A Belfast Prayer, topped the list.

Published on The Guardian

Top 10 dance shows of 2019

10. Arthur Pita: The Mother

In terms of a show that got horrifyingly under the skin, Pita’s gothic take on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Story of a Mother burrowed like a parasite. An unrelentingly bleak vision of motherhood, played out by an utterly consumed Natalia Osipova and the shape-shifting Jonathan Goddard, much credit must go to designer Yann Seabra, David Plater’s lighting and musicians Frank Moon and Dave Price, responsible for creating the nightmarish world of the show. LW Read the full review.

9. Rosie Kay: Fantasia

Dancing. To music. For fun. It’s not very “contemporary dance”, is it? Perhaps choreographer Rosie Kay is pulling our leg? Not at all: it turns out that she is simply going for broke. Three Amazonian dancers, costumed like kids playing dress-up, gleefully – and skilfully – romp through fistfuls of music from Vivaldi to Vaughan Williams, mimicking styles from moonlit romantic ballet to melodramatic Martha Graham. Cartoonish, yes, but it’s not parody – it’s pleasure. SR Read the full review.

8. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater: Lazarus

Sixty years strong, the New York company proved it can keep a vital connection to its roots while forging into new territory. Alongside the evergreen Revelations (which despite its status as the most-seen contemporary dance of all time, still manages to contain its own small revelations each time), Rennie Harris’s Lazarus paid tribute to the company’s founder and his childhood in the American south, while mining fresh phrases from Harris’s own hip-hop vernacular. LW Read the full review.

7. Matthew Bourne’s Romeo & Juliet

A huge burst of youthful energy (courtesy of young cast and collaborators) was key to the success of Bourne’s Shakespeare shake-up, finding the star cross’d lovers trapped in a draconian institution and raging against the authority that suppresses their runaway feelings. A great portrait of the all-consuming delusion of young love (complete with epic snogs), with tons of clever ideas, a dynamic cast and a renewed vigour injected into Bourne’s choreography. LW Read the full review.

6. Merce Cunningham: Night of 100 Solos

Marking the centenary of Merce Cunningham’s birth, a one-off intercontinental event with performances in Los Angeles, New York and London saw 25 dancers perform extracts from the choreographer’s back catalogue, interwoven into a new work. Some were already Cunningham experts, others (such as luminous ballet dancers Francesca Hayward and Joseph Sissens) were verdant newbies, and it was fascinating to see Cunningham’s taxing choreography as a living thing for each dancer to face on their own terms. LW Read the full review.

5. Northern Ballet: Victoria

An epistolary ballet? Sounds highly unlikely – even more so when told through flashbacks, split viewpoints and doubled characters. Yet aided by a score that narrates its story in sound, a versatile set and subtle performances, Cathy Marston’s singular, sweeping take on Queen Victoria – seen through the eyes of her youngest daughter, Beatrice, as she reads the diaries of her grieving mother – never lets go of the plot, the characters or their social world. It’s quite an achievement. SR Read the full review.

4. San Francisco Ballet

The company brought an impressive 10 UK premieres to their London season, including the fresh, feelgood buzz of Justin Peck’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming and a stripped-back Edith Wharton drama in Cathy Marston’s Snowblind. But among the short works was the serious substance of Alexei Ratmansky’s Shostakovich Trilogy, reflecting on classical ballet technique and the choreographer’s own Soviet heritage to the thrillingly mercurial compositions of his countryman Shostakovich. The dancers were brilliant, too. LW Read the full review.

3. Royal Ballet: Romeo and Juliet

For a dancer to take a role they have performed many, many times and make it seem as if they are experiencing those emotions for the first time is the holy grail of the story ballet. Lauren Cuthbertson’s Juliet fell in love in front of our eyes and you could see her surprise at her own feelings as Matthew Ball’s Romeo leaned in for a kiss or raised her aloft. It was a deliciously romantic performance of Kenneth MacMillan’s exemplary ballet. LW Read the full review.

2. Pam Tanowitz: Four Quartets

A longtime figure in New York’s underground dance scene, choreographer Pam Tanowitz utterly wowed us with her international debut, danced to TS Eliot’s Four Quartets, read in full by actor Kathleen Chalfant. In a work of multilayered fascination, words, steps, music (by Kaija Saariaho) and sets (paintings by Brice Marden) all shifted in and out of focus, and Tanowitz’s choices showed thoughtful craftsmanship, beautiful handling of texture and a great clarity of mind. LW Read the full review.

1. Oona Doherty: Hard to be Soft – A Belfast Prayer

There’s a brilliant voiceover in Hard to Be Soft, in which a young woman describes herself and her friends in Oona Doherty’s home town of Belfast: “This little bubble that has tragedy in the walls.” Their defiance has a physical manifestation, she says, the importance of putting on a good face. “If you’re in a shit-hole but you look fucking amazing there’s something really empowering about that … They’re superstars in this granite-like stagnancy … just for putting on their armour and getting on with the day.”

In Hard to be Soft, Doherty elevates the defiance, pride and resilience of the tough, sometimes maligned working-class men and women around her, while scratching at the vulnerability underneath. All the while, choral voices rise in charged crescendo, underlining the beauty and horror that religion has bestowed on this city and these lives.

She is only at the outset of her career but Doherty’s shows at this year’s Edinburgh international festival and Dance Umbrella made her look like the most exciting young voice in contemporary dance. The chameleonic choreographer herself transformed into callow yet cocksure young men, sour-faced and swaggering, putting up a brittle shell against the world. Purely as a piece of physical metamorphosis it was masterful, but Doherty’s work is so much more than that. LW Read the full review.


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