Sunday, January 21, 2007

Greatest Dancers of 21st Century

Both my husband, Carlos, and I have had strong exposure to dance and are big fans of a variety of dance -- whether classical, popular, tribal or ethnic. I have been fortunate to have attended seven years of ballet and tap class as a girl, and taken subsequent lessons in modern, Irish stepdancing, Brazilian dance and soon -- bellydancing. I was also managing editor for an independent dance magazine for awhile, Salome, and was able to attend countless dance performances, to see many emerging dance as well as world famous dance companies. Carlos worked in a public relations and office management capacity at the MoMing Dance Company in Chicago for a couple of years, and also has attended many performances. But we don't always agree on everything.

I was somewhat crestfallen that I had been born too late to have seen the great Vaslav Nijinsky dance. Instead, I have probably read five or six books on his life, his biography, was one-time owner of the fabulous coffee table book "Nijinsky Dancing," (which I regretfully sold when I was hard up for cash) and have written a poem about his life that appears in my chapbook "Private, On Purpose." Nijinsky was considered by many to be the greatest dancer of the 20th century.

I tried to attend the performances of other ballet dancers who might have reached his equivalent. I saw Rudolph Nureyev perform "Afternoon of a Faun" -- a Nijinsky classic, as well as other pieces. He was wonderful, but Nureyev was close to the end of his career and could no longer do the great leaps which I heard he could accomplish in his youth.

Later, I was able to see Mikhail Baryshnikov perform classic as well as modern ballet, i.e. Twyla Tharp's "Push Comes to Shove" and was astounded by his abilities. Perhaps he may not have had the style and emotion of Nijinsky, he certainly had the tremendous leaps, strength and finesse that Nijinsky was known for. So I have placed Baryshnikov on my list of best dancers of the 20th century.

Another 20th century favorite is Michael Flatley of Riverdance fame, who put Irish stepdancing and nearly the country of Ireland back on the map again. His jawdropping talent always kept me spellbound.

Sadly, both Baryshnikov and Flatley are at the end of their careers. Too bad dancers don't have the artistic span of painters or poets!

Now, on to the best dancers of the 21st century! I actually saw them in off-the-beat-path Chicago neighborhood venues, which are sometimes where the best entertainment and art in the area can be found. You may not have heard of either of the dancers I will mention, but you will -- or you should!

Both my husband Carlos and I agree on this! Juan Ogalla, flamenco dancer from Spain is attractive, richly talented, with every move perfect and wrought with emotion. He lives the music and you just know he lives to dance. I couldn't believe I was actually watching his performance at Northeastern Illinois University.

I know my list so far is strictly male. Can I help it if I am partial to male dancers? But a female now enters the list. For my birthday, my husband not only gave me the bellydancing lessons I was hoping for, but surprised me by taking me to a bellydancing revue of about 15 dancers from the Midwest and beyond, staged at the unlikely venue of the Northside College Prep High School auditorium.

The star of the show was San Francisco-based Rachel Brice -- who actually moves as sinuously as a snake, as if she had no hard or angular joints in her body whatsoever. Carlos and I and the other couple we were with could not take our eyes off her. Instead of a snake charmer charming the snake, the snake-like Brice charmed and mesmerized the entire audience of 500. She, like Ogalla, seems to truly live her dance and is likely the most flexible, rhythmic, and at one-with-the-music dancer I have ever seen.

Dance world -- with Ogalla and Brice around, you have a lot of catching up to do! And Carlos actually agrees with me! ◦

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