Janusphere Dance is Darion Smith’s company, but the New York-based dancer, choreographer, and Santa Barbara native runs it as a joint enterprise. The company’s West Coast premiere last weekend featured the work of four different choreographers and nine dancers, Smith among them. The democratic approach is a smart one for a young company bursting with talent like this one, giving the dancers a chance to create their own work as well as to perform, and ensuring a varied program.
The show opened with Smith’s work, Three Layers of Glass, an ambitious group piece that served as an introduction to the talent and technical accomplishment of the dancers. This was straight-laced neo-classical dance interspersed with moments of quirky, rapid movement, set to a Philip Glass score with echoes of Tchaikovsky. The dance that followed, Toreador, traced the fraught dynamics between a woman-the temptress-and a man-the bull and pursuer. Toreador toed the line between severity and silliness, slipping over into the realm of the ludicrous in certain moments, notably when Jaime Kotrba lifted her red skirt suggestively, right on cue with a crash of the drums. Some bullfights end with the toreador being gored to death; in this piece, it was the bull, Simon Kazantsev, who died a dramatic death.
The female members of Janusphere stayed en pointe throughout the show, even in Solitude, a quartet choreographed by Kotrba for two men and two women, and apparently inspired by relational dynamics. The men were bare-chested in black pants, the women dressed for bed in white strapless tops; this was potentially racy, but Solitude was marked more by a sense of disconnection and loneliness than by sexual tension.
After three pieces based in drama, All Intents, choreographed by Janusphere dancer Danielle Genest, took the evening in a lighter direction, and with great success. The piece for seven dancers was set to a selection of works from Edmund Welles’s Bass Clarinet Quartet and included a particularly fun rendition of Radiohead’s “Creep.” In pixie-like, red net costumes, the dancers swirled in formation, broke off into duets and solos, and regrouped. Genest played up the score-both its energy and its doldrums-and used unison judiciously, allowing routines to devolve into controlled chaos before they got stale. Something about the playful quality of All Intents suited the dancers particularly well, and they made it clear how much they enjoyed performing it.
It’s not often Southern Californians get a taste of the best new dance New York has to offer. As for Smith, who appeared in three of the four pieces on the program, here’s hoping he stays onstage while continuing to develop his own work.