Since freshman year, they’ve taken daily technique classes, studied choreography and stagecraft, and danced in student productions. They’ve learned works by emerging artists and faculty members and classics from the canon of modern dance. As seniors, they’ve joined the UCSB Dance Company, built up a repertory of works, and taken those works on tour to Southern and Northern California, New York City, and Italy. Back in Santa Barbara for their last hurrah before graduation, these 13 dancers don’t look much like the wide-eyed teenagers who began this journey four years ago. They look like a dance company.
Last Thursday’s Center Stage performance gave fans back home a chance to see how performing the same works over and over has deepened this company’s artistry. From the flowing, surging lyricism of Nancy Colahan’s “No Freedom Like a Dance” to Nicholas Bruder’s stark meditation on seeing and being seen, these dancers showed their command of a range of styles. What was consistent was their joy at being onstage together.
Among the works on this program was an excerpt from José Limón’s “Psalm,” originally created in 1967 and restaged for the company by UCSB professor emeritus Alice Condodina. “Psalm” is an earnest paean where dancers appear like pre-Columbian figures brought to life; they cross and recross the stage, stamping out geometrical patterns, sometimes raising their arms in a V overhead, sometimes linking them to form a human chain. On less seasoned dancers, a work like this could easily lose its gravitas. This company captured its ritualistic thrill.
Colahan’s work for 13 dancers complemented the Limón with its mesmerizing quality of ebb and flow; dancers in blues and greens were like water sprites, spilling and swirling through space. Faculty member Mira Kingsley’s “Hasten Slowly” changed the pace and the scale; in floor-length gowns, Larry Daniels and Brittany Amoroso brought total engagement to a strange, unfolding seduction.
Sex was an overt theme in a work for the full company created by Austin McCormick and inspired by Édith Piaf. Here, women in corsets and heels strutted, pouted, and dug their nails into their stomachs, though the cause of all their anguished posing never became clear. Department graduate Sumi Clements, now a successful dance artist in New York, contributed work to this program, as did current student Tenaya Cowsill.
After more than 20 years of directing the UCSB Dance Company, Delila Moseley seems to have perfected the art of transforming student dancers into precise, nuanced performers ready to launch their professional careers. Throughout the evening, what impressed most was the assurance with which these dancers moved, along with the way they looked each other in the eye, acknowledging that their journey together is drawing to an end.