Sunday, May 20 , 2018, 11:54 pm | Fair 58º


Review: UCSB Dance Company Ends Season on a Spirited High Note

Final performance of year speeds by with flashes, flips and fun

The phrase “going out on a high note” came to mind at the UCSB Dance Company’s final performance of the season. Directed by Delila Moseley, the 14-member senior performing company brought an impressive array of talent and high-quality dance to the Center Stage Theater on Wednesday in the season finale.

“Elastic Flip,” by faculty member and accomplished choreographer Nancy Colahan, set the bar high, with the entire company in expansive, dynamic movement. Fluid but effervescent, the dancers bring to mind rushing water as it splashes around logs and boulders in a stream. The mood is playful and lighthearted and the effect is hypnotic.

Student choreographer Sulijah Learmont created “Lumi,” which begins with dancers creeping onstage like prowling predators in the jungle. The music then shifts, becoming lively and percussive while the dancers’ bodies reflect the rhythm, moving sharply to the drumbeat. They play off each other with lively good humor and appear to be truly enjoying themselves, making the experience in turn more enjoyable for the audience.

Also a faculty member, Valerie Huston presented “Dragusaga,” based on an Icelandic ghost story. The piece alternated dreamily solemn, ethereally lit segments with bursts of energetic, ecstatic movement. One particularly effective interlude had the dancers on a dark stage, lit only by a row of large flashlights on the floor and accompanied by the sound of dripping water and chirping birds. Being able to see only glimpses of bodies passing through beams of light intrigued, while the overall effect was soothing.

Mike Esperanza’s “Up, onward and around” inventively alternated between athletic and languid. Playfully combative movements contrasted with graceful harmony. At times, the dancers moved in sequence, other times in unison, but always with panache.

“God Gave Them Eyes for That,” was the conceptually richest and most multilayered offering of the evening. By Mira Kingsley, it was inspired by a group of Hungarian gypsies she met, as well as by her father’s stories from the Korean War. Two women and one man, in costumes vaguely reminiscent of 19th century Midwestern farm life, appeared on a dimly lit stage with the sound of helicopters overhead fading into silence. Then melodies of gypsy music by Romano Drom were heard as the dancers wove together old world and modern. The contrast of the various elements, as well as unexpected reversal of roles as one woman lifted the man repeatedly, created an arresting atmosphere, taking the viewer to a place out of time.

The climax of the evening was an excerpt of “Speeds,” by acclaimed New York modern dance icon Jennifer Muller. Created in 1974, this is one of the first pieces she choreographed, the same year she launched her company. Muller herself traveled from the East Coast to teach the excerpt to the students last fall.

The dancers wear all white, casual yet stylish costumes, as if contemplating a lawn party with the Great Gatsby. They enter crossing the stage single file, repeating this many times throughout with varying attitude and velocity. Interesting to note was that while crossing at slower speeds, the dancers use a heel-first, pedestrian walk, as opposed to leading with the toe, as is generally done in dance. They saunter and twirl stylishly as if on a catwalk.

As the name implies, the use of different speeds is central to the energy of the piece. A fast and flashy duet with complicated footwork gives way to a slow-motion segment, and even stillness is used, as one dancer enters and kneels onstage wearing a large-brimmed hat. She remains motionless for well more than a minute while the tension increases, the audience wondering what will happen next. Finally, she gets up and calmly walks offstage.

The most charming element is that the dancers periodically take turns calling out “Change!” at which point either the speed or direction of all shifts. Sometimes loud, sometimes whispered, this command from within the ranks gives the piece a sense of being created spontaneously by the dancers, which was inspiring, energizing and joyful to see.

— Justine Sutton of Santa Barbara is a freelance writer and frequent Noozhawk reviewer.

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