Ordinarily, touring dance companies stop in Santa Barbara for a day or two — long enough to perform for a night, sample the Mexican food, hit the beach, and catch a plane to the next destination. Not so for Keigwin + Company. The New York-based contemporary dance troupe arrived in town in late March and set up shop at the Lobero Theatre, where they spent the next four weeks rehearsing repertory and creating new work.
Keigwin + Company’s unusually long stay in Santa Barbara was the second such project undertaken by DANCEworks, the successor of SUMMERDANCE. It was an unprecedented opportunity for the company, yet Keigwin’s residency also yielded lasting, unexpected gifts for Santa Barbara.
One of those gifts was “Exit,” a new piece choreographed on the Lobero stage and deeply influenced by the atmosphere of the space. For “Exit,” Keigwin commissioned an original score from Brooklyn-based Chris Lancaster, who performed live onstage, his cello hooked up to a series of electric pickups and amps, and played as percussion as well as a string instrument. With the wings removed and the brick wall at the back of the stage exposed, the set fit the music: spare, experimental, dark. In Burke Wilmore’s shifting, angled light, dancers in flouncy party dresses and skinny jeans shot downstage only to return over and over to the upstage wall as if by magnetic force. There were passages of wild urgency — arms tossed so vigorously they seemed disconnected from sockets, fingers splayed and vibrating. Wherever “Exit” is seen in the future and however it develops, it will remain a proud product of Santa Barbara.
Also on the program were “Air,” in which the dancers were flight attendants in scenes that ranged from kitschy to lyrical, and “Triptych,” a relentless, technically demanding movement study set to a pulsing electronic score. Though “Triptych” was built from angular, repetitive motion, its most arresting moments were in the breaking of rhythm — Liz Riga held some stunning suspensions while the action surged around her.
The highlight of the evening was “Bolero Santa Barbara,” a piece created by Keigwin and performed by 50 community members, most of whom had little or no dance experience. “Bolero” captured Santa Barbara’s easygoing coastal culture, giving nods to wine tasting, yoga, surfing, tourism, and the Summer Solstice Parade. As a participant in the rehearsal process and the performance, I watched as Keigwin drew a crowd of strangers into a supportive, playful group of fellow performers. It was a rare and joyous experience, one whose impact will last long after Keigwin + Company’s departure.