Wednesday, September 20 , 2017, 8:07 am | Fair 60º

 
 
 
 

Review: UCSB Dance Company on Right ‘Trajectory’ — Onward and Upward

The UCSB Dance Company, under the direction of faculty member Delila Moseley, provides UC Santa Barbara seniors with extensive performing experience. Having just returned from a two-week, six-city tour to New York and Italy, the company presented its final show, Trajectory, this week at Santa Barbara’s Center Stage Theater.

This extremely strong and varied program included works of many styles, eras and flavors. These dancers are talented, and the stamina required to go from one athletic, physically demanding piece to the next — with only a brief pause for costume change — is considerable and impressive.

Opening the show, and setting the bar high, was “Deep Currents,” created last year by UCSB faculty member Nancy Colahan. Stylistically gorgeous, this large group piece is a study in contrasts, and uses them well. Staccato and then smooth, the movement is reminiscent of natural rhythms, the ebb and flow of nature, but at the same time carefully structured. Patterns of advancing and receding, repeated gestures, and formations of long lines of dancers play off nicely against the women’s flowing dresses, striped like striated granite or marble. The overall effect is both ancient and futuristic, natural and manmade, and ultimately, exquisite.

Jerry Pearson, former artistic director of Santa Barbara Dance Theatre, created “Strange Boat” in 1999. Four women and two men, wearing spare black athletic briefs and tops, frolic to The Waterboys’ “Strange Boat” and Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks” in front of a screen on which song lyrics, numerals and arrows move across, seeming to dance with them as they whimsically interact. The movement suggests calisthenics and gymnastics, but is also playful and collaborative. Constantly in motion, these six dancers give the illusion of many more bodies onstage.

“Shaker Life” is an excerpt from “Songs of the Disinherited,” created in 1972 by notable choreographer Donald McKayle, best known for creating socially conscious dance works during the 1950s and ‘60s expressing the human condition and, more specifically, the black experience in America. Here, a stage full of dancers leap and twirl in celebratory abandon, flinging their arms wide. In a departure from contemporary/modern dance performance convention, the dancers spontaneously let out whoops and shouts of joy, inspiring the audience to join in.

Christopher Pilafian, director of Santa Barbara Dance Theatre, offers “The Space Between Us,” a brand new duet. Yvette Johnson and Sean Nederlof start out not quite dancing together, but rather dancing around each other, tentatively, then gradually moving into connection. Their progression, which eventually yields beautiful lifts and partnering, is a pleasure to witness, and these dancers clearly put their whole selves into the piece.

UCSB faculty member Valerie Huston’s “Black Earth” is another recent work. Alyse Romano dances this contemporary ballet solo, which is lighthearted yet reverent. It ends with a powerful visual image, the dancer kneeling, apparently in supplication.

“A Drowned Glimmer of Innocence” is a new work by Peter Pucci, formerly with acclaimed company Pilobolus. This large group piece features dancers in what appear to be white summery pajamas. Their many unison gestures of planting, building and tending contribute to the atmosphere of a communal group and, along with the costuming, provide a dreamlike, surreal feel. The final tableau of surrender, as all lie prostrate, suggests the darker side of the hive mind. Music by Francesco Landine and Philip Glass supports this darker image, with foreboding strings.

As a fitting and fantastically executed finale, the company performed a suite from “Psalm,” by modern dance pioneer José Limón in 1967. Based on an ancient Jewish legend about a group of men who carry the sorrows of the world, it focuses on the Burden Bearer, danced masterfully by Nederlof and his followers, the Psalmists. With primitive, militaristic elements, this work is dynamic and dramatic. Nederlof is clearly one to keep an eye on as his star rises in the dance world. His solo here and his trio with Romano and Sarah Eichler are alone worth the price of admission.

Now in its third decade, the UCSB Dance Company has also cemented its place firmly in the local dance scene as a place to catch young talented dancers early on in their careers. When they hit the big time, you can say you knew them when. Kudos to all involved on excellent work, and all our best to them as they go out into the wider world, making way for next year’s new crop of up-and-comers.

— Justine Sutton is a Santa Barbara freelance writer and frequent Noozhawk reviewer. The opinions expressed are her own.

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