The best dance and performance events of the year — on-stage and off. 

1999 Critics Choice: Bodies in Motion

Easy access to entertainment is one of the benefits of living in a city like Richmond. Here, admission is anywhere from $40 a ticket for a performance at the Carpenter Center to a free seat in Carytown, which on any given day affords a showcase of diversions. I'm particularly fond of sitting in a chair along the sidewalk and watching the parade of people down Cary Street. This affordable pastime immerses my senses in the color and texture of clothing, the pitch and tone of voice, and the rhythm and nuance of a passerby's gait. This dance of the pedestrians addresses an ongoing curiosity about and admiration for our potential as bodies, as moving forms.

Although most visitors to Carytown comply with pedestrian behavioral norms — keeping to the sidewalk unless crossing the street, for instance — onstage, the rules for the body change. Dancers may stand upside down, jump repeatedly and cry out to realize a wide range of results. Doug Varone and Dancers achieved startling poignancy in the group work "Sleeping With Giants" during a concert this October at Virginia Commonwealth University's Grace Street Theater.

Using elements of drama, a rarity in modern dance which tends toward abstraction, "Giants" portrayed the outcast, played effectively by Larry Hahn who, often a step behind the other dancers, struggled for inclusion in the group which wove in and around him, sometimes in direct confrontation. The group could be seen as a family rejecting its wayward son, or as a dance company refusing its slower member. Varone's refusal to identify the characters, letting the audience complete the story with details from their own lives, gave the work archetypal power. With exceptional dancing throughout, "Giants" delivered a final punch when the group abandoned the outsider. Certainly, not a happily-ever-after ending, but a work rich with emotional resonance.

Markedly different, Maureen Fleming drew from memories of a childhood car accident in "After Eros," seen in March as part of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts' Fast/Forward series. Unlike Varone's quick, frenetic movements, Fleming dripped and melted with deliberate and meditative slowness. Bending and twisting in unimaginable ways, her seemingly impossible contortions erased her as a person and transformed her into a morphic sculpture or a mutating biological form. Exquisitely supple, her body revealed each breath and muscular shift as monumental events.

John Bailey achieved magical spectacle in "Parade 99" at Artspace in April with a series of dance and musical performances. Outrageously costumed performers paraded through the gallery, descended from the ceiling, rolled as mashed potatoes and depicted the Aborigine's dreamtime to created a festive, light-hearted event celebrating the joy of play.

Then there's a particularly rambunctious group of — dare I call them pedestrians? — from about two months ago, outside the Byrd Theater. They were not standing on line for movie tickets nor quietly licking ice-cream cones, but were swinging around street signs, flopping onto cars and tumbling off the curb into the street. Clad in street clothes, this spirited crew challenged the rules of the sidewalk and the stage, helping to blur the line between who is dancing and who is merely


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