Next time you hear about some incompetently run financial institution or another avaricious fraud, remember how the mostly non-profit arts community makes something out of next-to-nothing every day. Something that moves us to laughter, to tears, to contemplation, to insight. In that spirit, let's look back on the best local theater and dance that 2008 brought us.

One shudders to look back at a year such as this one. A cratered economy. The near death of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra (still struggling musically, judging by its unsteady accompaniment to BalletMet's otherwise solid Nutcracker in December). The passing of such local icons as Harold Eisenstein, who powered Gallery Players for decades; Gary Ellson, co-founder of Actors' Theatre; and Brian Casey, whose music propelled so many local dancers and choreographers, to name just a few.

But even - especially - in times such as this, the arts offer refuge, comfort, uplift. Next time you hear about some incompetently run financial institution or another avaricious fraud, remember how the mostly non-profit arts community makes something out of next-to-nothing every day. Something that moves us to laughter, to tears, to contemplation, to insight. In that spirit, let's look back on the best local theater and dance that 2008 brought us.

Theater

Best Plays: Now commemorating its 25th anniversary season, Contemporary American Theatre Company had another banner year with John Patrick Shanley's Doubt: A Parable and Michael Healy's The Drawer Boy. Available Light Theatre poetically blended their movement skills and Sheila Callaghan's narrative in Dead City.

Best Musicals: The touring Irish ensemble Pan Pan brought its sitcom-inspired variation on one of literature's earliest dysfunctional families to the Wexner Center in Oedipus Loves You. Under the guidance of John Giffin, the Ohio State University Theatre reconstructed an evening of timely sketches in Wild Stages: Kabarett MFA.

Best Female Performances: Mandy Fox brought the certainties of Sister Aloysius to chilling life in CATCO's Doubt. As if comedy wasn't hard enough, Moliere (via Ranjit Bolt's brilliant translation) did it in verse, and no one did it better than Margaret Cook as the maid Dorine in Actors' Theatre's wonderfully lucid Tartuffe.

Best Male Performances: Each playing a multitude of parts, Jon Osbeck and Kevin McClatchy gave every one of them a distinct personality in Carrickmacross Productions' Stones in his Pockets by Marie Jones.

Best New Work: Director Matt Slaybaugh and the precise ensemble work of Available Light made Time and a Few Words a good way to spend a few hours in the theater.

Dance

Columbus Dance Theatre noted its 10th anniversary in 2008. In January, Columbus Movement Movement will mark its fifth year and has been trying to shore up its resources, energies and organization for the future. Surviving and thriving in this economy is no easy task.

One forward-looking trend that became particularly apparent in 2008 was the overt encouragement of new work. Such entities as the OSU Department of Dance and CM2 do so as a matter of course, but both CDT with its New Dance Project and BalletMet with its Columbus Choreography Project made it a public priority.

Chronologically, here are one observer's choices for the dance highlights of 2008:

* Nature Theatre of Oklahoma, Poetics: A Ballet Brut, Wexner Center (February)

* Rodrigo Pederneiras, Grupo Corpo, Benguel and Breu, Wexner Center (March)

* CM2, "Columbus Dances VII" (March)

* BalletMet, "The Columbus Choreography Project," especially Christian Broomhall's The Scientist, Anna Sullivan's Artificial Intimacy and Jeff Wolfe's Such Great Heights (April)

* David Nixon, BalletMet, Romeo and Juliet (May)

* Amy Raymond, Sehnsucht, OSU Dance Downtown (May)

* OSU Dance, "Jumping Off Point: 2008 Senior Dance Project," especially Adriana Durant's Jane and Wayne and Caitlin Maxwell's Digit (May)

* BalletMet, "Hot Nights, Cool Dance," especially Stanton Welch's Play and Darrell Grand Moultrie's Square Off (August)

* Bebe Miller, Necessary Beauty, Wexner Center (October)

* Jessica Tupa, TUPACO Dance, Crystalline Continuance (October)

* OSU Dance, "Chocolate, Dance, and Conversation," especially Shawn Hove's 8:47, at 4th and Pine and Trisha Brown's Sololos (December)

With memories such as these to draw upon, perhaps 2008 can elicit something more hopeful than shudders as we anticipate a brighter 2009.