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  • Writer's pictureNeill Kovacic-Clarke


2023 has been an outstanding year for dance productions and this was possibly the hardest category for me to narrow down to my top 5. The top 2 were never in doubt but it was a hard fought contest for the remaining 3 places on this list!

My rule when narrowing down the list that 2023 had to be my first year seeing the production for it to make the list. For this reason shows such as Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty do not appear here.

So here we go - the top 5 dance shows and dance performers of the year are listed below alongside my pick for choreographer of the year and also lighting designer of the year - which this year falls into the dance category.



Rendez-vous Dance

Theatre Royal Plymouth

Simply put, What Songs May Do… from Rendez-vous Dance is the most beautifully powerful piece of dance I have ever had the privilege to witness. The piece explored love, heartbreak and sexuality in such a raw and mesmerising way that I was captivated from the very beginning

This was a love duet like no other. It proved that the story itself is the most important part of any production. With no set and minimal lighting it was pure artistic know-how and an incredibly compelling meaning that transcended boundaries and drew the audience ever-closer.

For me this was so much more than a dance performance. It was a socially important piece of art that should be seen by everyone. I loved it so much on the press night that I returned for a second viewing two days later!


Kate Prince’s Zoonation

Theatre Royal Plymouth

This electrifying dance show told a powerful story of refugees and took the audience on an emotional rollercoaster. There were some visually stunning moments throughout the entire performance.

Set to the music of Sting, the soundtrack was a mixture of original recordings, re-recording and covers and this worked extremely well and sat wonderfully in the piece. Really accentuating each moment which was completely captivating.

This production was a real eclectic mix of dance styles and was everything I could have possibly wanted from a dance show. Each piece was arguably more powerful than the one which preceded it and I was in awe of the beautiful storytelling, which was danced with precision by an incredibly talented company.


Birmingham Royal Ballet

Theatre Royal Plymouth

Swan Lake has long been one of my personal favourite ballets and this production from Birmingham Royal Ballet excelled my expectations on every level with a performance that was a picture of sophisticated grace.

This elegant production had me enchanted from the very beginning and the lavish sets, costumes and lighting were equally as stunning as the dancers who performed the piece. I’m not sure that Tchaikovsky’s classic has ever looked quite this good on the stage!


Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures

Theatre Royal Plymouth / Sadler’s Wells, London

Matthew Bourne has done it again! His adaptation of Edward Scissorhands instantly impresses. The storytelling was sublime and the attention to detail in every aspect of the production was exquisite.

The entire company were truly phenomenal and gave what can only be described as a masterclass of storytelling through dance. The farewell duet between Edward and Kim was performed with such emotion that you could really see into the souls of the two.

I loved this production so much at the press night in Plymouth that I returned to the show in London a few weeks later and have booked to see it again in January!


English National Ballet

Royal Albert Hall, London

This production from English National Ballet was exquisite. Being in-the-round, we did lose some of the elaborate set that you associate with ballet but this didn’t matter as the amazing company proficiently told this elegant story.

The Royal Albert Hall is a big venue and I was sat quite high up. Although I couldn’t see the facial expressions of the performers, the meaning of the story and the sublime beauty of the performers made me feel a real part of the production.

2024 will see this company perform Swan Lake in-the-round and I’ll definitely be booking myself a ticket.



Lead Dancers

What Songs May Do…

My number 1 spot is shared between the incredible Oliver Chapman and Paolo Pisarra, the two dancers who performed with sublime elegance as they brought the incredible What Songs May Do… to life.

They both exposed their vulnerabilities unapologetically which allowed you to be drawn right into the heart of the story as they invited the audience to take their journey with them. The sheer talent of the two is undeniable and was a privilege to witness, especially in such an intimate setting.

The way their beautiful bodies intwined to tell the story was nothing short of incredible. The emotion they portrayed was effortlessly projected into the audience and created tears in the eyes of those of us who were transfixed on their beautiful story.


Lead Dancer

Message In A Bottle

Lukas McFarlane is an exceptional dancer. His technique is flawless and it’s impossible not to be transfixed by his talent when he performs. As part of Message In A Bottle this year he was breathtaking and was easily able to put across every single emotion of his character with painful realism.


Odette / Odile 

Swan Lake

Mimoko Hirata was perfection as she danced the part of Odette / Odile in Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Swan Lake. Her elegance shone from the stage and I watched in awe as she gracefully moved through the story. There were audible gasps from the audience as she performed, especially during her pirouettes, which made me dizzy just watching her! She was absolutely mesmerising from start to finish.


Edward Scissorhands

Edward Scissorhands

Another joint placement on this list is shared between the incredible talents that are Liam Mower and Stephen Murray who are currently sharing the role of Edward Scissorhands

I am lucky enough to have seen them both in the role this year, and there is absolutely nothing separating them. They are both breathtaking and lead the company wonderfully. They both take this iconic character and make him their own, while still maintaining some of the characteristics that we know and love about him.

It is quite usual to have a favourite when a role is shared, but I honestly cannot choose between them on this occasion hence them sharing the position on this list.


Ryan Gaibright 

Edward Scissorhands

Having seen Edwin Ray in many different roles over the years, I was overjoyed to have seen him in two productions this year - Strictly Ballroom and Edward Scissorhands.

Sometimes there are performers which you are just drawn to whenever they’re on the stage and Ray is one of those for me. His love of his craft exudes from the stage and he is simply joyous. 

I have been incredibly lucky to witness so much stunning dance this year and there have genuinely been so many wonderful performers that I have seen so would like to give notable mentions (in alphabetical order) to the following people:

Precious Adams - Cinderella - Cinderella in-the-round

Stephanie Billers - Joyce Monroe - Edward Scissorhands

Mathias Dingman - Prince Siegfried - Swan Lake

Robbie Ordona - Dancer - Message In A Bottle



What Songs May Do…

My accolade of Choreographer of the Year 2023 goes to the sensational Mathieu Geffré for his incredible piece What Songs May Do… It’s no secret how much I loved this piece, and seeing as it has topped the previous two lists it was inevitable that Geffré was going to be my only choice here.

He completely understood the souls of his characters and told an emotionally raw same-sex story with utter truth and without censorship. This was a brave choice, but so important. This evocative piece of dance celebrates diversity in an incredibly impactful way.

Every choice made by Geffré was done with utter precision and I cannot wait to see his upcoming piece The Monocle when it tours next year.



Peaky Blinders: The Redemption of Thomas Shelby

Although overall I was disappointed with this show from Rambert, there is no denying that it was technically stunning and the phenomenal lighting design by Natasha Chivers was breathtaking as it stood out above everything else and was a piece of art in itself. She created exactly the right atmosphere throughout the piece and it was a complete marvel.

So there we have it! My round-up of all things dance in 2023. Let me know what your favourites were of this year. I can’t wait to see what 2024 holds. I plan to see productions from most of the companies mentioned on these lists so it’s sure to be another incredible year for dance.

Neill Kovacic-Clarke

Disclaimer: All views are my own and I pride myself on being honest and free from influence. Some of the shows and people mentioned above are from productions which I had received invites to see, meaning my ticket was gifted, but this has not played a part in their inclusions here.


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