READERS' PICK: The well-established Orts Theatre of Dance consistently puts on the most inventive season of all the local modern-dance companies. Though the troupe regularly draws on its well-stocked repertory of works created by artistic director Anne Bunker, each year Orts tries something startlingly new. This year it was capoeira, an African-Brazilian martial arts form originated by slaves in the Brazilian jungle centuries ago, and now winning practitioners in the urban U.S. For their Thanksgiving weekend concert, the Orts dancers teamed up with local capoeiristas who train with master Dondi Marble. Their collaborative piece "Breaking Ground" brought the down-to-earth martial arts moves into a perfect marriage with the modern dance carried out in the air on the Orts trapezes. All of this was played out to haunting Portuguese chants and live music on homemade instruments.
READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: Ballet Arizona's The Nutcracker. We're not sure whether Ballet Arizona still qualifies as local since the financially troubled company cut its Tucson season this coming year down to The Nutcracker bone, but last fall's The Green Table was far and away one of the best things on Tucson stages. Composed by the legendary German choreographer Kurt Jooss just before Hitler came to power, it's a modern classic about war, oppression and death. The Ballet Arizona troupers did an admirable job in the dance-theatre work, wearing masks and costumes that simultaneously evoked medieval death imagery and the sterile face of contemporary war machines. The pristine production was set on the company by Jooss' daughter Anna Markard. And there was another family connection: Ernst Uthoff, the late father of the company's now-departed artistic director Michael Uthoff, danced the piece during its first-ever outing in Paris, in the dark days of 1932. Uthoff, who quit Ballet Arizona during the summer financial troubles, deserves much praise for his efforts to put 20th-century classics on Arizona stages.