Last weekend’s “Imagine That” dance concert at UCSB’s Hatlen Theatre was a multifaceted treat. Under faculty member Christopher Pilafian’s direction, students and faculty showed a wide variety of work.
Student choreographer Kiera Justine Kinghorn presented “Follow Me, Moon,” a piece rooted firmly in modern dance. It featured abstract movement, but with a welcome infusion of humanity, against a backdrop of the moon in its various phases.
“Swallowed By the Night” was an intriguing retelling of the myth of Persephone envisioned by Olivia Mia Orozco, another student choreographer. The direction was a strong element here, as the dancers expressively portrayed the heroine’s dilemma between the joys of life on Earth with her mother and her love for Hades, who insists on her living in the underworld with him. The result was a well-executed and stirring blend of theater and dance.
Pilafian’s own piece, “String Along,” was a quirky and delightful departure from his lush and stunning large ensemble work, with sweeping gestures and larger-than-life themes.
In this quartet, set to Django Reinhardt’s 1930s gypsy jazz, the dancers projected distinct personalities, embodying the cabaret mood of the music, even indulging in a bit of vaudevillian humor.
Inspired costume design by student Chelsea Brown created a Picasso-esque visual effect — one-legged tights, dresses that seemed more sculpted than sewn and jewel-tone colors — which was as important an element as the movement. It is clear that this was a joyful collaboration between designer and choreographer, and audiences will be fortunate if they continue to work together.
Jerry Pearson, a faculty member and director of Santa Barbara Dance Theatre, revived a 1983 piece titled “In Our Own Image.” Like much of his work, this large ensemble involved dancers moving in sequence to create visually enjoyable patterns. Clad in bright purple unitards, the dancers held 3-foot lengths of white plastic tubing, which they eventually used to form large stick figures. Later they bounced and rolled on large, green rubber balls. The piece created a soothing mood, with periodic moments of humor, as the balls threatened to roll off the stage into the audience.
Student Myra Joy Veluz offered perhaps the most challenging piece of the evening. Featuring six dancers in ragged costumes, reminiscent of the Mad Max movies, it utilized bare, percussive electronic music. Eventually, the group broke into three pairs, with a definite sadistic dynamic. Images of subjugation gave way to those of downright torture. What saved this from gratuitousness was the absolute dedication that the performers brought to the movement, portraying anguish and struggle in a very authentic way. While challenging, the payoff was gratifying.
Valerie Huston, of the UCSB faculty, closed the show with “Summer Nights,” with dancers in costumes reminiscent of Great Gatsby-era swimsuits. The music was a softer jazz, the movements fluid and elegant, but though of an entirely different style, it elicited the feel of another dimension of the same era as that of Pilafian’s piece.
It seemed in ways to be a companion to it, and satisfyingly rounded off a thoroughly enjoyable evening of original dance.
— Justine Sutton of Santa Barbara is a freelance writer and reviewer.