Unmasked, presented by Theatre UCSB. At the Hatlen Theatre, Sunday, December 3.
Reviewed by Elizabeth Schwyzer
UCSB dance majors don’t just clock a lot of hours in the studio; by the time graduation draws near, they’ve been trained in costume, lighting and scenic design, choreography, and musical composition. They have collaborated with professional designers and with one another in crafting an aesthetic and realizing a vision. Last weekend’s Unmasked was evidence of the rigor and the relevance of the department’s program.
The show set student works alongside faculty choreography, opening with contemporary ballet instructor Valerie Huston’s Concentric Incident. Subtly illuminated by low, slanting shafts of warm light, a procession of dancers snaked in and out of linear and circular formations, breaking into emotive solos and duets, and then melding back into formation.
Dance major Kimberly Isbell’s Industrial Strength followed; four chrome and vinyl chairs became the portable fantasy playground for a quartet of women in aprons, pearls, and 1950s hairdos. At first contained in glances and languid gestures, their pent-up energy soon broke into playfully competitive antics and centerfold style posturing. Industrial Strength was delightful not only for its popular imagery and clean execution, but because it took the iconic figure of postwar domesticity and empowered her to have a good time.
The theme of desire and the degrees by which it is repressed or released showed up in Huston’s duet for two women, Tête à Tête, as well as in the works of students Janna Diamond and Lynda Gutierrez. In Diamond’s all-female quintet, Left Open, women in blue satin blouses and tailored shorts fixed the audience with no-nonsense gazes and wound their hips in circles, nightclub style. Set to the electronic indie-rock of German band The Notwist, Diamond’s distinctive movement vocabulary of twisting torsos, twizzling joints and flexed feet drew connections between two curving sculptures whose shapes were more evocative than representational.
In the nightmarish Grey Matter, Gutierrez played one girl’s feminine innocence against the brutish conformity of four masked figures in maroon shrouds. This was an archetypal struggle between good and evil whose ending carried the otherworldly quality of a lucid dream. Additional faculty choreography included Tonia Shimin’s austere and primal Waterwheel and Nancy Colahan’s Cascade, a torrent of technically refined movement set to the equally effervescent work of J. S. Bach.