Unmasked, presented by Theatre UCSB. At the Hatlen Theatre,
Sunday, December 3.
Reviewed by Elizabeth Schwyzer
UCSB dance majors don’t just clock a lot of hours in the studio;
by the time graduation draws near, they’ve been trained in costume,
lighting and scenic design, choreography, and musical composition.
They have collaborated with professional designers and with one
another in crafting an aesthetic and realizing a vision. Last
weekend’s Unmasked was evidence of the rigor and the relevance of
the department’s program.
The show set student works alongside
faculty choreography, opening with contemporary ballet instructor
Valerie Huston’s Concentric Incident. Subtly illuminated by low,
slanting shafts of warm light, a procession of dancers snaked in
and out of linear and circular formations, breaking into emotive
solos and duets, and then melding back into formation.
Dance major Kimberly Isbell’s Industrial Strength followed; four
chrome and vinyl chairs became the portable fantasy playground for
a quartet of women in aprons, pearls, and 1950s hairdos. At first
contained in glances and languid gestures, their pent-up energy
soon broke into playfully competitive antics and centerfold style
posturing. Industrial Strength was delightful not only for its
popular imagery and clean execution, but because it took the iconic
figure of postwar domesticity and empowered her to have a good
The theme of desire and the degrees by which it is repressed or
released showed up in Huston’s duet for two women, Tête à Tête, as
well as in the works of students Janna Diamond and Lynda Gutierrez.
In Diamond’s all-female quintet, Left Open, women in blue satin
blouses and tailored shorts fixed the audience with no-nonsense
gazes and wound their hips in circles, nightclub style. Set to the
electronic indie-rock of German band The Notwist, Diamond’s
distinctive movement vocabulary of twisting torsos, twizzling
joints and flexed feet drew connections between two curving
sculptures whose shapes were more evocative than
In the nightmarish Grey Matter, Gutierrez played one girl’s
feminine innocence against the brutish conformity of four masked
figures in maroon shrouds. This was an archetypal struggle between
good and evil whose ending carried the otherworldly quality of a
lucid dream. Additional faculty choreography included Tonia
Shimin’s austere and primal Waterwheel and Nancy Colahan’s Cascade,
a torrent of technically refined movement set to the equally
effervescent work of J. S. Bach.