At first, all she wanted was to bring her choreography to the stage. Since moving from L.A. to Santa Barbara in 2003, dancer, actress, and singer Devyn Duex had found many ways to share her talent with the community. She performed with Motion Theatre Dance Company and SonneBlauma Danscz Theatre, two of Santa Barbara’s longtime modern dance groups. She danced with independent artists and even contributed choreography to a number of repertory companies in the area.
Despite her successes, Duex still yearned to produce a show that featured her own creative work. While that dream percolated, Duex married, earned her MBA, worked full-time for a retirement group, had her first child, and then had her second. Others might well have put their dancing dreams on hold.
Last month, Duex met me at Muddy Waters Café to talk about Nebula Dance Lab, Santa Barbara’s newest modern dance company and the fruit of her efforts during the past few years. As her newborn napped in his stroller and her toddler worked the room for snacks, Duex explained the company’s name. “The concept of a nebula is energy coming together to create more energy,” she said. “That’s really how this happened. It’s taken on a life of its own.”
From the modest vision of setting her work on three or four performers, Nebula has grown to a company of seven dancers and two choreographers, all of whom hold degrees in dance. The company has earned 501(c)(3) status, received a community arts grant, and earned the support of corporate and individual sponsors. They’ve scored a rehearsal space, found a lighting designer, and taught community outreach workshops to teens and preschool children. This weekend, they will premiere Clair-Obscur, an evening-length show at Center Stage Theater.
Perhaps most surprising of all these developments is that Clair-Obscur won’t feature Duex’s choreography at all. “It became more about creating a foundation to support emerging talent,” she explained. For now, those emerging talents are Erin Martinez and Emily Wheeler, both graduates of the UCSB dance department who cut their teeth in New York before returning to the South Coast.
Wheeler will present “Take the Bull by the Horns,” a work in four sections that explores the idea of self-acceptance. “It started with looking at negative thought patterns,” Wheeler explained. “Then I wanted to look at that theme from different angles.” Wheeler says working within the structure of Nebula Dance Lab has given her the space and time to investigate a single theme more deeply than ever before.
For Duex, that’s what it’s all about. “I have a direction I’d like to see the company go, but I don’t want to direct artists or tell them where to go creatively,” she explained. “It’s more about maintaining the professional caliber of the work.”
With her focus on quality artistry, Duex has long had her eye on Martinez, whose work “The Singing Bones” makes up the other half of this weekend’s program. The piece is a multimedia adaptation of “The Twa Sisters,” a 17th-century murder ballad that tells the tale of a girl who drowns her own sister. Martinez, who is also a graphic designer, has created a video backdrop to her physical score of hyper-articulated movements performed at break-neck speed. “I’ve taken a lot of liberties with the narrative,” she explained. Expect a dark, post-apocalyptic fairy tale set to an electronic score mixed with the haunting music of Andrew Bird.
Though Martinez, like Wheeler, has shown work here in town before, she says working with Nebula is different. “It’s amazing to be given the opportunity and the platform to really dig into a piece of work and take your time with it,” she explained. “It’s such a strong base to be able to create from.”
For her part, the business-minded Duex is already looking toward the company’s future, where she sees salaries for all her artists, touring gigs, and maybe even a chance to show her own work one day. “Why can’t the vision be a big modern dance company here in town?” she asked, while rocking her son’s stroller and unwrapping a cracker for her daughter. “Why can’t it go to that level?”
With Duex at the helm, it seems there’s no reason it can’t.
Nebula Dance Lab will perform Clair-Obscur at Center Stage Theater (751 Paseo Nuevo) this Friday-Saturday, January 27-28, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, January 29, at 2 p.m. For tickets, call 963-0408 or visit centerstagetheater.org. To learn more about the company, visit nebuladance.org.