One of France’s biggest dance festivals, Lyon Dance Biennale, celebrates 30 years. It’s the first edition by vivacious choreographer Dominique Hervieu, who succeeded its founder and artistic director Guy Darme. The festival included dozens of performances, including 19 premieres by a most attractive list of dance makers, raising high expectations.

As expected, not all were at their best. Some of the leading names in the French dance field didn’t surpass their previous artistic achievements. Perhaps the recession is partially responsible for products without enough power to thrill audiences, or the prevailing fashion of most creations to give up on actual dancing and opt for performance art where, within its loose borders, just about anything goes.

The best floated high above the murky mass, including maverick Israel Galvan, who revolutionized contemporary Flamenco art; and one of France’s most serious choreographers, Maguey Marin, who managed to distill a deconstructing view of the human condition by producing a series of minuscule scenes between interval walls of total darkness, like flushes of reality of a post-traumatic world. One of a Kind by Jiri Kylian, danced by the Lyon Opera Ballet, contributed an exquisite work of supreme beauty.

Perhaps the various voiced from smaller groups and names that function outside the mainstream block bring newer energies and controversy and spice up the scene. Among them was the duo provocateurs C. Bangolea and F. Chaignaud with their endless dreidel-like whirling instead of their usual stage acts of activities others do behind closed doors.

Luc Petton, best known for a dance with live swans, brought his newer piece, danced with trained flocks of various birds, including parrots. Kids were breathlessly fascinated. His next project is a dance with Japanese cranes.

For the first time, perhaps, dance that came from South Africa generated much interest and controversy. It represented two generations and two socio-cultural springboards: Johannesburg-born veteran choreographer Robyn Orlin, who is white and often works with groups of black professional and amateur dancers. Her social activism and political stance make some pieces overtly deductive. She promotes audience participation, breaking the invisible fourth wall between audience and performers in a sassy, often rude way. Her pieces are theatrical, its dancing is based on simple African moves and is secondary to her narrated agenda, which some may call patronizing and others term juvenile.

On the other side is the young and piquant dancer/choreographer Dada Masilo. Born in Soweto, against all odds she burst into the international circle. She is fabulous, agile, energetic dancer, quite clever, who adores actual dancing and loves deconstructing classical ballets and resizes them to fit her interest in social issues, such as gender, social hierarchy and sexual partnering choices. Her Swan Lake was absolutely engaging, done in bare feet by her well-trained ensemble, all wearing white tutus, regardless of gender. Her prince prefers the gay black swan rather than covet the pure white swan, leaving the delicate creature lamenting her love and life in a truly touching scene. Her piece probably contained more actual dance than any other show in the biennale, loaded with the clever synergy of Afro-balletic Masilo style dancing.

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