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New Works and Works in Progress at UCSB’s Ballet Studio

The Importance of Play


For most professional dancers with full-time contracts, finding time to choreograph is close to impossible. Dancers interested in making their own work often have to give up coveted jobs in order to do so, or else wait until their bodies give out on them. But at Santa Barbara Dance Theatre (SBDT), thanks to some open brainstorming, proactive requests, and support from Artistic Director Jerry Pearson, the dancers have been taking time to explore their own artistic visions. Last week’s informal showing of some of their work was proof it’s time invested wisely.

Standing on the Marley floor of the UCSB Ballet Studio under dim lights due to an untimely power outage, SBDT dancers Marcos Duran, Cybil Gilbertson, and Ian McGinnis glowed as they introduced their own sketches and works in progress to a small, enthusiastic audience. Gilbertson presented a solo about falling in love, softer and slower than her usual powerhouse dynamism. She also appeared in one of McGinnis’s structured improvisations: A duet based on the familiar tension between a couple preparing to go out for the night, and moving at two different speeds. McGinnis has sinuous articulation and a jazz-informed technique; seeing him move instinctually was a treat.

Of all the SBDT members, it’s Marcos Duran who seems destined for a future in choreography. Having graduated only last year, he’s already a prolific dance maker. On this occasion, he presented three separate works: a solo that he’ll be showing soon in San Diego, an ambitious and already well-developed group work for nine dancers set to a driving Philip Glass score, and a video featuring Tonia Shimin, a longtime member of the UCSB dance department whom Duran cites as a major inspiration. Duran’s trademark style involves inwardly focused, contorted gestural work punctuated by periods of either frenetic struggle or soaring lyricism. His group piece, “On the earth, standing still,” best exemplified his developing talent for moving groups of dancers across the stage in broad, dynamic strokes.

The program also included a live, acoustic performance by L.A.-based musicians Fly to Blue, and a presentation of “Unraveling the Weave,” a dance video choreographed by Ilana Morgan and edited by dance artist Heather Carney. For the audience, the evening was a gratifying peek inside the studio process, where technology doesn’t always comply, improvisation sometimes includes tripping and falling, and dancers and musicians have to engage in dialogue in their search for common ground.

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