The cast of Nancy Colahan's "Megan's Daydream."

The cast of Nancy Colahan's "Megan's Daydream."

Summer Dances, presented by UCSB’s Department of Theater and Dance.

At the HSSB Ballet Studio Theater, Wednesday, July 30.

Some of the best artists are untrained, yet training is one of the best ways to become an accomplished artist. It’s a conundrum most young artists face, and one every arts training program has to contend with. Out at UCSB, dance educators understand that their art form is about more than just technique-it’s a form of expression and communication, and it can’t be fully realized without an audience. So this summer, they’ve given every one of their students a chance to perform.

The cast of Nancy Colahan's "Megan's Daydream."
Click to enlarge photo

The cast of Nancy Colahan’s “Megan’s Daydream.”

Last week’s Summer Dances featured every student from the department’s summer school classes, from those brand new to dance to those already dancing professionally. Among the eight pieces presented were works choreographed by department faculty and demonstrations from entry-level ballet, modern, and jazz dance classes. But given a paying audience, risers at the edge of the studio, and theater lighting, even the least-experienced of these dancers was transformed into a performer.

There was a quality of barely contained excitement, and a sweet combination of studied focus and gleeful abandon.

The magic of that shift was apparent right from the start in the eager faces of Delila Moseley’s beginning ballet students, many of whom also performed in a spirited demonstration of Jerry Pearson’s modern dance class. In both cases, there was a quality of barely contained excitement, and a sweet combination of studied focus and gleeful abandon. In works like Valerie Huston’s lyrical solo “Elegy” and Christina McCarthy’s quirky modern duet “Quadrant,” students met the challenge of stylistic interpretation.

Big, exuberant groups took the stage for Pearson’s “Stand,” their movements accompanied by the choreographer’s signature screen projections and goofy sense of humor. In Moseley’s music-video inspired “Everybody Dance,” the all-female cast got a chance to strut their stuff to Beyonce.

The longest and most complex works in this program were Huston’s “Dragusa,” inspired by Icelandic ghost stories, and “Megan’s Daydream,” choreographed by Nancy Colahan. The cast of the former switched between vibrant partner work and somber sections lit only by the eerie glow of flashlights. Santa Barbara Dance Theater member Blake Hennessy-York joined the group, and soloist Pam Keindl brought out the moments of haunting melancholy. In Colahan’s group work, Megan (danced by high school student Megan Tench) watched her dreams come to life as dancers emerged from behind the wings one by one and danced to the rhythms of a live drummer. Solos evolved into trios, and the changing beats guided dancers from wild whirling to slow, concentrated placement of the limbs, and finally to high-spirited silliness.

Summer Dances was proof of a productive summer for the department, but more than that, it was proof of the vitality that underlies their work. UCSB’s dancers, from the novices to most elite, are being taught that their art isn’t found in the perfect plie; it’s in the dancing.

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