By BERNADETTE RAE

One of the highlights of the dance year came in February with the visit of the Madrid company Noche Flamenca. There were just five dancers, two singers and two musicians and the performance they gave was relatively unadorned, but they danced and sang and played and whipped the good old Aotea Centre into a dark passion. No stage dressing was required. They were the genuine article, primal and profound.

The artfulness of their art made a strong point: there is nothing like authenticity, of tradition or identity or philosophical conviction, to make any performance worthwhile.

Too often, especially among the younger contemporary dance fraternity, the message becomes so intellectual and contrived that the result is passionless, precious and, frankly, a bore.

Touch Compass and Black Grace are two major Auckland forces who have something genuine to say and go right ahead and dance it from the heart.

Black Grace had two showings this year: The Black Grace and Friends show in August and the new Black Grace: New Works in November. Their success has a threefold base: they have a strong identity, they have talent honed by heaps of hard work and they have Neil Ieremia at the helm.

Touch Compass, Catherine Chappell's riveting, mixed-ability dance company, is another troupe with a strong identity, a passionate view and a charismatic and creative leader. Their performance was Lighthouse in September.

As well as the new work, they displayed their signature strength in Flying Impro and gave a repeat performance of Lusi Faiva's Eden. Touch Compass are always an inspiration and a celebration of the diversity of the dancing human body.

Douglas Wright's Inland was a stunner in March, with McCahon-esque images of landscape and being-ness and Wright's addition of sheep.

Love him, loathe him or remain mystified, nobody does it quite like Wright. His works are always different, sometimes shocking, and tackle the biggest concepts. His dances always carry Wright's signature, as plain as his thumbprint would be.

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo visited in October and left their audiences reeling with laughter. The Trocks are an all-male company sending up the classical ballerina in the most complimentary way.

Climbing into hallowed tutu and on to tortuous toe shoes, they imitate to the finest degree with the utmost earnestness and a huge appreciation of technique. The effect is sidesplitting, perfect parody.

There were other visitors too: another Irish dance show, this time entitled The Spirit of the Dance. Please be advised, Stetson Productions and anyone else contemplating further extravaganzas from the land of the leprechaun, the shapely leg, the swinging curls and the fast flying feet, all held together with those side-clamped arms: "Enough, already!"

The Royal New Zealand Ballet produced another highlight in Carmen, which played Auckland and Napier after touring the rest of the country.

What a sizzler - not just for the passion of its famous story fabulously updated, but for the spectacle of our own classical dancers performing a contemporary choreography that truly cuts new ground.

Created by up-and-coming international choreographer Didy Veldman, this Carmen stretched the Kiwi dancers into new shape in a delicious way and they loved it.

There are not too many companies in the world that could perform a dance drama like The Hunchback of Notre Dame in March, a perfectly beautiful Swan Lake in June and then let loose with something like this Carmen by year's end.