For its inaugural show back in January 2012, Santa Barbara’s Nebula Dance Lab presented two ambitious new contemporary dance works — one theatrical and narrative, one more abstract. The double-feature format has stuck. Last weekend, Nebula was back for its third evening-length production at Center Stage Theater, this time showcasing the premiere of Brooklyn Hughes’s modern fairy tale “Floodlit & Fallen” alongside a reprise of the more conceptual “Sand into Glass,” by Nebula’s artistic director, Devyn Duex.
New this season was a program of live preshow music. Friday night’s performance opened with Kate Graves, who set the tone with smart, soulful songs from her album, Long Night. “It’s so good to be shadowed by the light,” she sang, standing solo with a bare stage behind her.
Soon enough, that stage fell into shadow, and pairs of dancers gripped wrists and flung each other across the stage, their bodies in silhouette. “Floodlit & Fallen” told a familiar tale of man’s fall from grace and eventual redemption through faith in a higher power, in this case represented by a form from nature. In designer Anaya Cullen’s elaborate wire headdress and paneled dress crisscrossed with root-like forms, dancer Weslie Ching embodied the stately power of a tree. Ching rolled her wrists and ankles in slow motion, then unfurled her limbs into powerful branches as the humans around her flitted, posed, and chased the promise of glamour, only to fall into violence and desperation.
“Floodlit & Fallen” employed text by Kathryn Stephens, projected on the scrim at key moments to clarify the action onstage. From elaborate costumes to passages of tight unison, the work evidenced thorough, professional investment.
Proof of that investment carried through to “Sand into Glass,” where themes of recurring struggle and performance under pressure yielded intense and unexpected partnering. Streaks of pink and blue shifted across the scrim as dancers responded to a driving score with coiled tension and bursts of urgency. From Genevieve Hand’s satisfyingly fierce specificity to Kaita Lepore Mrazek’s blend of explosive power and sensuous fluidity, this company of seven women represents a wide range of movement qualities, combining in an energizing whole. With talk of a trip to Chile in the coming year and plans for a dedicated modern-dance studio here in Santa Barbara, Nebula continues to expand its reach.