Terra Nueva

Ballet Santa Barbara

At the Marjorie Luke Theatre, Saturday, November 11.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Schwyzer

With its debut performance just last March, Ballet Santa Barbara (BSB) is new in town. This ambitious, full, and varied program was the work of a company entering the dance scene with dynamism and confidence. That confidence is well founded; the nine dancers performing last weekend were without exception technically strong, versatile, and dramatic—the kind of performers we’re lucky to have in Santa Barbara. BSB Artistic Director Carrie Diamond is committed to working with talented local dancers, and this show proved she has found quite a few already.

The program opened with two contemporary ballets set to music by composer Kenji Bunch. Diamond collaborated with choreographer Melinda Horwitz on “Down Town Time,” where dancers took sudden directional changes, flung one another’s arms away in impatience, and repeated everyday gestures, reflecting both the frenetic score and the disjointed, hurried quality of urban life. In Horwitz’s brooding trio “Slowdance,” Colleen Bialas and Christina Sanchez were two images of one woman; while Sanchez was free to extend her limbs, Bialas was hemmed in by some unseen limitation, confined to the space on and around a chair. Ian Vincent McGinnis danced with one woman and then the other, moving with the slippery, weighted fluidity of quicksilver.

The following solo, “Folia,” though based in ballet vocabulary, came from another world altogether. Guest artist Carlos Fittante performed this intriguing reconstruction of 15th century Portuguese courtly dance in a lavish costume including a full mask, plumed crown, velvet cape, and short hoopskirt.

Diamond’s wide-ranging narrative ballet “Terra Incognita” closed the first half of the show with a series of vignettes set to Chopin Mazurkas. Nicole Helton and Denise Woods were wickedly enchanting as the devious duo determined to outshine one another and wreak havoc on an innocent young couple (Bialas and Eduardo Cueto).

Post-intermission, Benjamin Harkarvy’s modern ballet “Frames” explored the nightmarish qualities of an unhappy relationship. The program closed with Diamond’s romantic and celebratory “Suenos Castellanos,” with visiting dancers Juliana Bertelsen and Daniel Whitehead joining the company. Only eight months old, BSB is already covering promising new ground. We’re glad to have them here.

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