Two imminent events dominate the worlds of local theater and dance as 2009 takes its final bows.

Two imminent events dominate the worlds of local theater and dance as 2009 takes its final bows.

In theater, the upcoming merger of Contemporary American Theatre Company, aka CATCO, and Phoenix Theatre for Children holds promise for future survival, yet leaves a million questions unanswered. In dance, the great globe of Columbus Movement Movement (cm2) dissolves come Dec. 31, although the vibrancy it has generated these past five years will carry on in other forms.

Particularly in these tough economic times, our artists help make Central Ohio the livable place it is by seizing inspiration out of thin air and putting it in front of us every day. They amaze us and disappoint us, shock us and shake us. Let's look back on one observer's picks of the highlights of the year just ending.

Theater

Best Play: In God's Ear, playwright Jenny Schwartz told her story almost entirely by avoiding it, in ways that were both heartbreaking and hilarious in Available Light Theatre's production, directed by Eleni Papaleonardos. Much more than honorable mention goes to Actors' Theatre's half-human, half-puppet As You Like It, directed by Beth Kattelman and John S. Kuhn.

Best Female Performance: At the broken and healing heart of Available Light's God's Ear sat Michelle Schroeder, coming to terms with the death of her son, one word at a time.

Best Male Performance: As the cold-blooded pedophile in Evolution Theatre Company's Frozen by Bryony Lavery, Jon Osbeck created a chillingly complex character.

Best New Work. Funny, informative and thoroughly engaging, Available Light's Dirty Math, directed by Matt Slaybaugh, may well have been the best thing to come out of our current economic mess.

Best Touring Production: Melding Frank Wedekind's 1891 play with music of our own time by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik, Spring Awakening transcended both eras in this Broadway Across America Columbus presentation.

Dance

Some dance dissipates as quickly as it is performed, but here, in chronological order, are the performances that left their mark.

- Ohad Naharin, Three, Batsheva Dance Company, Wexner Center (February): Although a disembodied televised head (Naharin's?) "explained" each work, movement this inspired and surprising needed no explanation.

- OSU Dance, Face Time: Dance Downtown 2009, Capitol Theatre (May): Three premieres - Melanie Bales' "Ivory Dances," Victoria Uris' "Alarums and Excursions" and Ming-Shen Ku's "Still Time" - and a revival of Susan Hadley's Blue Grass, made for another strong entry in the Dance Downtown series.

- James Graham and Katy Gilmore, "Go to the Center," OSU Dance 13 Feats, Sullivant Hall (June): In this aggressive duet, the dancers manipulate each other until, toward the end, they lock necks and appear to be conceiving a new form of communication.

- Crystal Pite, Lost Action, Kidd Pivot, Wexner Center (September): Recurring images of dancers helping each other up, resurrecting each other with life-giving chest thumps, shaping and directing both with and without actual contact, molding and being molded by the desires and actions of others, lost or not.

- Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, Swan Lake, BalletMet Columbus and Cincinnati Ballet, Ohio Theatre (October): An impressive collaboration bringing out the best in both ballet companies.

- Adam Hundt, "dwell," BalletMet Columbus Nightmoves, BalletMet Performance Space (November): Hundt's choreography continues to stand out, proving with "dwell" that he can juxtapose the tough with the gentle.

- Victoria Uris, "Littoral Zone," OSU Dance Manimals and Other Human Creatures, Sullivant Hall (November): Taking "littoral" literally, Uris fills the stage with waves of movement.

- Tim Veach, CDT A-Z, Columbus Dance Theatre, Fisher Theatre (December): A surprisingly fascinating glance behind the dance curtain as audience favorites among 26 phrases of choreography get cobbled together into a serendipitous whole greater than the sum of its parts.

Finally, Victoria Uris and John Giffin retire from the OSU Department of Dance, and cm2's Shawn Hove moves on to more fertile pastures. In 2010, we find out how we fare without them.