Passion or Parody?

Motional Stories, presented by Santa Barbara Dance Theatre. At UCSB’s Hatlen Theatre, Friday, January 19.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Schwyzer

Founding Artistic Director Jerry Pearson reminded the audience Friday night that the Santa Barbara Dance Theatre has been around for 16 years. For the duration of that time, the company’s repertory has been primarily Pearson’s own choreography. Their most recent program, Motional Stories, was exclusively his work.

IMG_74-copy.jpgThe program opened with “What Goes Up?,” an excerpt from the 2001 work Artifice. Framed at both ends by the arresting image of a bare male torso writhing above a floor-length white skirt, the main body of the dance was a formless, exhilarating dreamscape. Slow-motion video clips of dancers leaping on a sandy beach formed the backdrop for this free-flowing romp. The effect was light and lively, if at times a bit simplistic; at one point, they lined up to surge across the diagonals, leaping in turn as they reached the spotlight.

Next up was the premiere of Pearson’s take on “Romeo and Juliet,” which landed somewhere between sincerity and slapstick. Dressed in white corsets and undergarments, the dancers stuck to a literal enactment of the plot. As a synopsis of the play flashed across the scrim, the dancers struggled to strike a balance between mime and movement. The set for the piece was composed of lightweight boxes that the dancers stacked and toppled, crashed through and tossed about. Marcos Duran as Romeo was convincingly anguished; as Juliet, Sarah Pon was as delicately exquisite as could be; and yet the blend of melodrama and humor fell short of conclusive.

After intermission, “Strange Boat” gave the dancers a better opportunity to show off their talent and physiques. At times they acted as a group, shuffling their feet in unison and moving laterally across the stage. Next up was Pearson’s second premiere of the evening: four short dances called “Dumb Stories.” In satin shorts and skimpy tops, the dancers shook their stuff and eyed one another to the thumping dance hall beats of DJ Paul Oakenfold. Behind them, enormous images of their faces were projected showing the dancers prodding and preening themselves as if in bathroom mirrors. The final section, “Cool Shoes,” took the theme of shallow behavior to its ultimate and tasteless conclusion—a bloody gunfight over a sexy pair of boots. Erika Kloumann was the last one standing, her fingers forming the proverbial smoking gun. Then she turned and fired at the audience.

Hit or miss? Let’s just say she walked away in some mighty cool shoes.

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