Center Stage 

A stellar dance season is waiting in the wings.

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Along with venues that draw dance talent from around the globe, the East Bay boasts world-class choreographers and dancers (who are sometimes better known on other continents than in their own neighborhoods). Whether your taste runs to the classical, the contemporary, or the avant-garde, the 2010-11 season offers something to satisfy your appetite. And with so many shows, festivals, and special events to choose from, it's easy to fill your dance card.

Cal Performances

New director Matías Tarnopolsky makes his mark with an exciting lineup that includes beloved favorites and first-time artists. This fall, Zellerbach Hall (Dana St. below Bancroft Ave., Berkeley) hosts Mark Morris Dance Group's West Coast premieres of Socrates, Looky, and Behemoth (Sept. 30-Oct. 3), followed by the daring Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in pieces by Nacho Duato, Alejandro Cerrudo, and Jiri Kylían (Oct. 29-30). In 2011, don't miss Ex Machina's Eonnagata, an avant-garde dance-theater production featuring former Paris Opera Ballet étoile Sylvie Guillem (Feb. 9-10); Merce Cunningham Dance Company's farewell (Mar. 3-5, see below); or groundbreaking contemporary dance by Nederland Dans Theater (Mar. 18-19). Cal Performances nurtures a close and long-standing relationship with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, which returns in spring (Mar. 29-Apr. 3) with multiple programs of new works and classics. Among Tarnopolsky's coups was securing the Royal Danish Ballet's first-ever visit to Zellerbach, where the revered 250-year-old company performs its historic La Sylphide as well as a program of modern Nordic choreography (May 31-Jun. 4). CalPerformances.org

SF Hip-Hop Dancefest

The Palace of Fine Arts will shake to its foundation during the twelfth annual SF Hip-Hop Dancefest (Nov. 19-21). The first festival dedicated to professional breakers, poppers, lockers, and b-boys, it features a juried lineup of crews and companies from as far afield as Norway and South Korea. This year's schedule hasn't been announced yet, but keep an eye out for Rockridge's New Style Motherlode (NewStyleMotherlode.com), which frequently represents the East Bay with a signature fusion of modern, ballet, jazz, and hip-hop. SFHipHopDancefest.com

The Lesher Center

With beautifully maintained theaters, comfortable seats, ample parking, and easy BART-ability (not to mention lots of nearby restaurants), the Lesher Center (1601 Civic Dr., Walnut Creek) is an excellent place to see dance. Diablo Ballet's (DiabloBallet.org) seventeenth season starts there with George Balanchine's Valse Fantasie, a selection from Val Caniparoli's Lady of the Camellias, and Tina Kay Bohnstedt's A Tribute to Lena Horne (Oct. 15-16). Two nationally recognized Bay Area troupes, San Francisco's Smuin Ballet (SmuinBallet.org) and Walnut Creek's own Company C Contemporary Ballet (CompanyCBallet.org), perform at the Lesher each season, making it easy to see their updated take on ballet without crossing the bridge. Following its Christmas Ballet (see below), Smuin presents winter (Feb. 4-5) and spring (May 20-21) programs. Company C dances winter (Jan. 21-22) and spring (May 13-14) repertories as well. LesherArtsCenter.org

Contemporary Choreographers

The East Bay's abundance of high-profile dance talent can only be described as an embarrassment of riches, and the slate of fall programs could fill your calendar. Dance artist Mary Armentrout performs her intimate, autobiographical "performance installation" the woman invisible to herself for three weekends, with each show beginning at sundown (Sept. 18-19, 25-26, and Oct. 2-3; MaryArmentroutDanceTheater.com). In collaboration with Jia Wu, Dana Lawton presents 18 Virgo Horses (Sept. 16-18; DanaLawtonDances.org), while Nina Haft explores space in DEBRIS/flows (Oct. 1-3; NinaHaftandCompany.com). The first night of San Francisco's WestWave Dance Festival (Sept. 20; WestWaveDanceFestival.org), a superb monthly sampler of contemporary dance now in its nineteenth year, includes Katie Faulkner (LittleSeismicDance.org) and Kat Worthington, whose Copious Dance Theater follows up with a fund-raising party and performance (Nov. 5; CopiousDance.org). Speaking of raising funds, Kimiko Guthrie and Dandelion Dancetheater are gathering matching dollars via a benefit soirée (Sept. 12) in advance of their show MamaLOVE: Seeds of Winter (Oct. 15-17 and 22-24; DandelionDancetheater.org).

AXIS Dance Company

Respected across the nation and around the world, Oakland-based AXIS leads the movement for physically integrated contemporary dance that pairs performers with and without disabilities. AXIS is big on access, so the company leads free Dance Access Day (Sept. 30) for kids (9:30 and 11 a.m.) and adults/seniors (1 p.m.), with 45-minute sessions of performance, conversation, and audience participation; RSVP by Sept. 15 to Annika@AxisDance.org. The award-winning company also attracts stellar collaborators, and for the new evening-length ODD (Nov. 5-7 and 12-14), AXIS shares billing with San Francisco choreographer Shinichi Iova-Koga and dancers from his company, inkBoat. Inspired by the Scandinavian figurative painter Odd Nerdrum and accompanied by cellist Joan Jeanrenaud, ODD promises inventive artistry and compelling movement. AxisDance.org

World Dance

The confluence of cultures in the East Bay ensures an enthusiastic audience for international dance, including performances by our exceptional local companies. Fans of Indian classical dance will want to see Berkeley's Odissi masters, Jyoti Kala Mandir, in the allegorical Vasha: Sacred Waters (Oct. 3; JyotiKalaMandir.org). The World Stage series at Cal Performances presents several dazzling troupes: Bayanihan Philippine National Dance Company (Sep 24), Bali's Gamelan Çudamani performing a full-length historical piece with live seven-toned gamelan Semarandana (Oct. 22), and Argentina's Tango Buenos Aires (Jan. 21). On a mellower note, bring your aloha spirit to the 30th Annual Ia 'Oe E Ka La Hula Festival and Competition at the Alameda County Fairgrounds (Nov. 5–7, KumuHulaAssociation.com).

Merce Cunningham Dance Company

All good things must come to an end, and now it's Merce Cunningham Dance Company's turn. Before Merce died, in 2009, he stipulated that the company was to disband two years after his passing, so Mar. 3-5 marks the company's final visit to Berkeley after 48 years of performing there — and our last chance to see Merce's work performed by dancers he selected and trained. The three nights at Zellerbach Hall alternate two programs of historic revivals: Program A includes Pond Way, Antic Meet, and Sounddance; Program B features Roaratorio, an Irish Circus on Finnegans Wake. Sets by Roy Lichtenstein and Robert Rauschenberg; music by Brian Eno, John Cage, and David Tudor; and movement that redefined dance — Merce will be sorely missed. CalPerformances.org

The Nutcracker

The East Bay has affordable holiday entertainment all wrapped up. Smuin Ballet rings in the season with the 2010 edition of its snazzy signature Christmas Ballet (Nov. 26-27), while the on-again, off-again Oakland Ballet Company returns with its full-length Nutcracker, a much-loved edition that many locals remember from childhood (Dec. 23-26; OaklandBallet.org). Berkeley Ballet Theater's (BerkeleyBallet.org) charming version, choreographed by the revered Sally Streets, casts kids in nearly every role, including as the stern parents, while Berkeley City Ballet's (BerkeleyCityBallet.org) production has been a holiday tradition for nearly forty years. Contra Costa Ballet (ContraCostaBallet.org) performs its narrated hour-long The Story of Nutcracker, specially tailored to the short-attention-span age group, annually at the Lesher Center. And the students of Alameda Civic Ballet (AlamedaBallet.org) present a full-length Nutcracker on the island each holiday season. Ballet students enjoy a passionate fan base of friends and family, so order tickets early for school shows. Look for Sugarplum parties and meet-and-greets that will dazzle the little ones.

Visit artist and venue web sites for locations, times, ticket prices, Nutcracker dates, and information on many more upcoming events. This preview is only a hint of what's in store for East Bay dance this season.

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