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Sunday, December 9 , 2018, 11:12 pm | Fair 51º


Review: Dancers Rise to the Challenge at Santa Barbara Floor to Air Festival

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With a pair of trapezes, a hoop and ropes hanging at various depths, dancers Emily Stratton, Lydia Lamberth, Rachna Hailey and Isabel Musidora open Friday night’s performance of the Santa Barbara Floor to Air Festival with “Peel.” (Onno Sweep photo)

The fifth annual Santa Barbara Floor to Air Festival, directed by Santa Barbara Centre for Aerial Dance founder Ninette Paloma, concluded with a spellbinding performance Friday night at the Lobero Theatre.

The curtains opened to a stage set with only a pair of trapezes, a hoop, and several ropes hanging from bars at various depths on the stage.

Four super-strong dancers opened the evening with “Peel,” set to a soundtrack of acoustic rhythmic clapping.

First, a pair took to the trapezes — sometimes solo, sometimes in tandem — performing complementary or synchronized twists, lifts, curls and movements reminiscent of complex origami folds. As with origami, you couldn’t always see what was coming a twist or two ahead, then with one flip there was a magical outcome.

A third dancer lifted herself to a hoop high over the stage and melded herself to its shape, attached only by a hand or the creases of her knees, elbows or neck.

Each dancer entered her flight device with seamless grace from the earthbound choreography.

“Dance of the Roustabouts” set a laughing crowd as counterpoint to the work of a lone artist. To the tones of a contemporary string quartet (with a Celtic-reminiscent sound) and hand drums, a single dancer climbed, upside down, up a thick rope at the back of the stage.

The opening moves by which she got to the top were truly beautiful, but the twists and drops and climbs by which she moved up and down the rope were wonderfully startling.

Eventually, dancers from the opening number merged into the second work, bringing the first half to a tidy close.

After intermission, five colorful silks in deep red, purple, indigo and lavender hung from the ceiling.

“Sonnet of Limbs” found nine dancers by turns wrapping themselves around and in the silks, up and down, swinging and spinning slowly, often four moving in unison 10 feet from the floor.

Floor to Air Festival
“Sonnet of Limbs” features dancers Isabel Musidora and Lucia Metcalfe wrapping themselves around and in silks hung from the ceiling. (Onno Sweep photo)

The solo piano music was sometimes ethereal, but sometimes it was repetitive and distracting, dissonant with the fluidity of the movement.

The choreography when the artists’ feet were touching the floor was as lovely and visually interesting as the movement aloft, but when Santa Barbara City College Dance Company took the stage in “Alethia,” the significance of the “Floor” in the Floor to Air Festival really shined.

The SBCC company is physically, ethnically and gender diverse with a graceful and versatile group of dancers.

They moved around, within and between the silks, and were equally captivating whether their entire bodies or just their feet were touching the floor. Choreography was fresh, though all eras of modern and contemporary dance were echoed.

“Alethia” featured an especially lovely balance of intelligent movement among the corps and rich partnering among various pairs of dancers.

The evening ended with “Prelude to Illumination,” set to a soundtrack of sampled speech.

When first an angel traversed the stage with delicate footwork atop a large gold ball, the vision was no less awe-inspiring than when I watched circus actors performing the feat on television as a child.

In fact, much of the beauty of the work is in the blend of our marvel at the defiance of gravity with the familiarity of movement that, though it’s made to look almost pedestrian, we know is the purview of long-rehearsed and rigorously trained artists.

The minimalist programs were a stylish 5-inch-square card with an image, titles, dancers’ names and equipment they used. I wish more information had been provided. Background on Paloma, the dancers, musical scores and what the equipment names mean (“lyra” or “corde lisse,” for example) would have enriched my experience as an audience member.

I’m looking forward to the sixth installment already!

Noozhawk contributor and local arts critic Judith Smith-Meyer is a round-the-clock appreciator of the creative act. She can be reached at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are her own.

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