UCSB dance students’ artistic voices came to life for the Department of Theater and Dance’s Fall Concert, Meraki: Soul, Creativity, Love, which held its opening night on Friday, December 4, in UCSB’s Hatlen Theater.
Directed by Christina McCarthy, the concert showcased the work of five student choreographers and their collaborations with student lighting, costume design, and sound editing. “So much love went into the show you’re about to see,” McCarthy announced before the opening act. “These minds coming together, making a beautiful thing for others to enjoy, that is what it means to be creative; that is art education.”
The show opened with a work titled “rumi_nation” choreographed by Sam Rose. As the curtain went up, five blindfolded dancers were seated on the floor with their backs to the audience. Through a series of repetitious moves heavily rooted in modern dance technique, the performers explored the balance of conformity versus revolution. Rose captured this with an original sound score made up of special-effect noises and music samples, such as car alarms and cell-phone tones.
“Midnight Limbo” was a theatrical piece presenting a world full of quirky individuals who bumble, fumble, and mingle amongst each other in a bar scene. Inspired by fashion and music of the 1940s, the dancers wore colorful dresses, checkered pants, and suspenders revamped by costume designer Kim Pecache. Emblematic of the usual suspects you’d find downtown, the dancers used a modern movement vocabulary to depict people looking for love and fun and simply to have a good time.
A highlight of the evening was Sunny Smith’s “Extinct Animals,” a freakish work that made audiences feel slightly uncomfortable and delightfully amused. Smith altered the space of the stage temporally as one performer alternately confined and freed dancers from carefully placed duct-tape squares on the floor. When constrained, the performers’ moves were wild and animalistic, exhibiting more freedom of movement, while the unrestrained dancers were trapped in a repetition of static poses. This created an interesting counterintuitive juxtaposition of freedom and claustrophobia.
Opening the second half was Rachel Oczkus’s “Con·Duc·Tiv·I·Ty.” The piece began with the curtain lifting halfway to reveal six dancers lying on the floor with their arms extended in the air and clapping. The dancers rose as the curtain fully lifted. In flowing, softly colored costumes, they moved in unison, creating lines and groups in space that opened to reveal pairs of dancers tracing parts of the other’s body. The work was clearly classical with some modern influence and was set to music by Bach.
Shenandoah Harris’s “Nefesh | Rauch | Neshamah” was definitely a crowd-pleaser. The piece utilized large silk panels hanging from the ceiling to differentiate the two-dimensional world of everyday life and the three-dimensional space of enlightenment, awareness, and connection. The dancers’ movements were powerful and full of emotion. They explored the spaces around the flowing panels — weaving around, coming out from behind, and spreading them apart. As the music reached a powerful crescendo, each dancer fell to the floor in front of one panel. The white silk fabrics were released from the ceiling and gently floated down through the still air, falling over the performers. The piece ended with silhouettes against a deep red backdrop, exploring the newly created space.
The concert closed with featured choreography by Cherice Barton, who is known for work with Katy Perry and George Lucas. UCSB dancers performed Barton’s “Oh, What a World!” set to music by Rufus Wainwright and Ólafur Arnalds. The dancers shifted between technical classical, modern, and almost freestyled play movement.
Meraki: Soul, Creativity, Love was an excellent exhibition of UCSB dance students’ quarterly work. It was inspiring to see each individual’s creative vision come to life through beautiful costume designs, clear sound editing, and technical movement showcasing each student’s soul, creativity, and love.