Audiences witnessed all sorts of choreographic statements this weekend when undergrads in UCSB’s Dance Department showcased their original work at Hatlen Theatre. The show, called Through Darkness and Light, explored dramatic themes through choreography that ranged from playful to moving. The inconsistency of dancers and styles of movement, however, fell just short of full realization.
The show’s opening piece, “One Killer Party,” was choreographed by student Heidi Buehler, and based on the popular board game Clue. At the end of the piece, when dancers struck their final positions and the murdered maid was resurrected, the audience was left unclear as to who’d dunnit. Individual dancing was strong, especially by the Miss Scarlet character, but the dancers had trouble uniting the collective.
“Broken Affinity,” choreographed by senior Jaclyn Speas, was one of the most noteworthy pieces of the evening. While soloist Melissa Ullom demonstrated an exceptional grace, all the dancers had solid technique and showcased an impressive range of movement. Gauzy black dresses and mood-appropriate music also highlighted the dancers’ and choreographer’s talents.
In the next piece, Sopha Formosa’s “Shrouded Awakening,” the relationship between the two soloists worked well, as did the interaction with the rest of the dancers. The ultimate problem lay in the use of Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sounds of Silence,” which detracted from the novelty of the three-part conclusion.
Faculty member Valerie Huston gave the audience a real treat with her work “The Velvet Touch.” A consistently enjoyable choreographer, Huston showcased 10 women on pointe, and then played with how the female dynamic changed once a male was thrown into the mix. (The women dropped down in a dead swoon when Blake Hennesy-York stepped gallantly on stage.) The dancing was undistinguished, but the choreography was stellar.
“What Seems to Be the Problem” was probably the most humorous piece of the evening, depicting a psychiatrist driven mad by her patients in her nightmares. Choreographed by Tara Stewart, whose mother is a therapist, the piece showcased both dark humor and skillful storytelling.
Carley Conder’s “Stolen Time” was a lyrical piece set to Vivaldi, featuring white-clad dancers on pointe. Soloist Heidi Buehler gave an expressive performance and the movement varied gracefully between contemporary and classical.
The last piece of the evening, Christopher Pilafian’s “Oracle,” seemed tailor-made to end a show. Dancers wore diaphanous skirts and the movement matched the costuming. The most memorable part was the final exit from the stage, when dancers ran diagonally across, one by one, each reaching back as though she were passing something invisible to the next dancer.