Then Again: New and Very New Dance from Southern California Choreographers
At Center Stage Theater, Sunday, July 30.
Reviewed by Elizabeth Schwyzer
Just when the excitement of Summerdance had me itching to bust this joint for New York, Santa Barbara’s Iridian Arts reminded me why this town is where I want to be.
Then Again was the final show in Iridian Arts’ successful first season of bringing contemporary music and multi-media performances to Center Stage. The nonprofit’s aim is to provide work that is current, bold, and important; Then Again overshot the mark. Curated by Santa Barbara dance artist Stephanie Nugent, the evening featured experimental and in-progress works in an open-house style, where performers warmed up onstage and choreographers introduced their work and shared their working concepts. Nugent’s own work opened the program: a solo juxtaposed to a duet exploring the problem of fixing what is broken. Cherise Richards’s discarded bouquet of daisies mirrored her disjointed dancing; rearranging the flowers in a vase did little to unify Nugent and Marcos Duran’s stilted relationship.
Los Angeles-based choreographer Carmela Hermann appeared in two pieces combining dance and spoken word. In the hilarious solo “Thanks To, Because, and Yet, In Spite Of,” created with Kristen Smiarowski, Hermann delivered a monologue about her personal life shot through with anxiety about current world events, while concurrently announcing the provenance of her every gesture. “It takes time to heel, figure things out, elbow, hip,” she explained, bent sideways with her elbows pointing skyward. Inner turmoil produced contortions of a different kind in Stephanie Powell’s “The Hill,” a Graham-esque expression of angst at the difficulties of witnessing a parent’s deterioration. In contrast, Cal State Long Beach faculty member Keith Johnson’s four solo studies set to the starkly abstract piano music of George Crumb (“I chose music that I hated, just because it felt good,” he quipped) unemotionally explored the architecture of the music and of the body in space.
The most demanding and most arresting work of the night was Taisha Paggett’s “We Imitate Fences,” a mesmerizing study of a woman’s psychological collapse accompanied by the most terrifyingly thrilling soundscape I think I’ve ever heard. In a striped housedress she appeared confined to the square of green carpet where she sat stock still to the insistent clash of drums and brass, moved slowly and with obsessive precision to quiet bird song, then flailed in wild desperation as sound folded into nightmarish chaos. Intermission followed, and I had to step outside to regain my composure.
At the post-show reception, artists and audience members chatted, feedback flew, and inspiration flowed along with plastic cups of two-buck Chuck. It was then I realized: It just wouldn’t be the same in New York.